Michael Almereyda’s modern day version of Hamlet cunningly reimagines Shakespeare’s tragedy with contemporary New York City as the stand-in for Denmark; Hotel Elsinore is the headquarters for the Denmark Corporation, Fortinbras’ armies are lawyers and ‘the play within the play’ is a video montage created by Hamlet to catch the King. Alternately callow and world-weary, Ethan Hawke brings his trademark slacker angst to his role as the tormented young Dane. Hamlet has been played by so many older thespians it’s compelling to see a young actor inhabit the role. Edgy and lean, Time Out London pronounced, “Almereyda modernises and streamlines without trivialising, and amplifies poetic melodrama with regular ingenuity and energy.”
Staged in the style of a dress rehearsal with street clothes and minimal set pieces, John Gielgud directed this taped version performed in front of a live audience based on Richard Burton’s highly successful Broadway run. Filmed in black and white, the picture quality is not the best, but the sound is impeccable; one can hear Burton’s unforgettable voice perfectly. Although he made his career in Stratford, Burton only did one Shakespeare film (Franco Zeferelli’s The Taming of the Shrew), so this is a rare chance to witness his complete mastery of the Bard.