2003: Michael Mundell
This is probably the last item in the career of Michael Mundell, who died the same year it was released. It was never given a theatrical or television release, but instead went straight to video. This is usually the graveyard of inferior productions that are not expected to do well in any other context.
It would be unfair to leap to that conclusion here. The setting here is modest, and both the film quality and the other production values are very modest. Within that limitation, though, it manages to achieve a reasonably good product. The acting is understated, but thoughtfully nuanced.
The chief problem of the film, I think, is that there’s not enough of it. It’s slightly under two hours, which is not enough time to do credit to Hamlet’s thematic expansiveness. Hamlet is probably the most-cut play in history, and it’s one of those that can least afford it. The unfolding line of reason in many of the speeches is undercut by the trimming here and there. When all is said and done, about half the play is cut.
William Houston’s Hamlet is played with quiet finesse, and I think his expression of the role has not received nearly enough attention. If there is any deficiency here, it is that he seems to lack (though only a little) Hamlet’s peculiar morbid playfulness. Nevertheless, that is all in the range of interpretable options. He seems young enough to play the part (Hamlet being the only character in all of Shakespeare, I think, whose precise age we know: he’s thirty), and he has both the maturity and the youth to do the role credit.
Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, and Polonius are all competently played as well. Lucy Cockram plays Ophelia with more strength than is perhaps normal at the beginning of the play, though not without a measure of vulnerability: her fall into madness is to my mind thereby the more tragic and moving. When all is said and done, there are few real stand-out parts. There’s little in this whole production that’s spectacular, in fact. To some extent that’s its virtue: it’s not about set pieces or individual effects. Instead it converges into an organic whole that’s as well integrated as any performance of Hamlet you’re likely to see, even with all the cutting that has taken place. There’s a lot to commend that, I think, even if it doesn’t create glittering moments.
Very few are likely to have seen this version of the play, but it’s worth seeking out. It’s exceptionally good other than in respect to its truncated length.
Claudius: Gareth Thomas
First Player: John Corvin
Gertrude : Jillian Bond
Ghost: Iain Cuthbertson
Gravedigger: Christopher Timothy
Guildenstern: Richard Hansell
Hamlet: William Houston
Horatio: Jason Harris
Laertes: Paul Curran
Murderer: Bryan Harrison
Ophelia: Lucy Cockram
Osric: Alistair Wilson
Player Queen: John Stevens
Polonius : David Powell-Davies
Rosencrantz: Richard Brimblecombe
Wedding Guest: Sofia Price