What to watch: Hamlet
In UK Cinemas for one night only, on 27 February͏, Ian McKellen stars as the troubled Danish prince in this film adaptation of the Shakespearean classic.
Sean Mathias directed this company in a 2021 stage production for the Theatre Royal in Windsor, and uses the theatre as the location for this film adaptation.
There are a lot of ideas thrown into this production, and a few Brechtian devices to hammer home that we are watching a film of a play.
The central concept is that the casting is age-blind – McKellen is an 82-year-old playing a headstrong young prince. Confusingly, all the other roles seem to have been cast conventionally, albeit gender-blind – Hamlet is Benjamin Button in the castle of Elsinor.
This isn’t a film for Shakespeare purists – the production plays fast and loose with some of the key soliloquies of the play, and the setting is contemporary although dreamlike. But you’ve probably got to have a fair bit of affection for the source material in order to be able to engage meaningfully with what Mathias is presenting – otherwise, it would undoubtedly feel a bit chaotic and confused.
The reason to watch this is to see McKellen throw himself into an iconic role. It’s a hugely ambitious undertaking, but you can feel his energy, and you can feel his command of the source material. It’s a performance that leaves you in no doubt as to why many consider him to be a national treasure.
In addition to McKellen in the title role, the cast includes Frances Barber, Steven Berkoff, Jonathan Hyde, Jenny Seagrove, Francesca Annis, Lee Knight, Emmanuella Cole, Alis Wyn Davies, and Ben Allen.
Hamlet is distributed by Kaleidoscope Entertainment