Confession: I've never finished reading Hamlet, despite its being assigned numerous times during my college career. I've also hardly payed attention to discussions about it.
That being said, I came to the RSC's version of Hamlet fairly fresh and unsullied. Of course I wanted to watch this specific Hamlet because duh, David Tennant plays Hamlet. The production (the filmed version of the successful staged play at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon) is an interesting film from a theatre point of view, in that it preserved some constants of theatre, i.e. many scenes are shot from less than ideal views, harkening to the fact that an audience member hardly ever has the best view for every scene.
The set was on a highly glossed and polished black floor or in haunting corridors of a brick edifice. The costumes were modern, but inventive. Hamlet was often barefoot, most noticeably during the play when he wears a tux. Queen Gertrude wears some stunning silk gowns with trains to beat the band.The English suits are sublime and Tennant in his fitted white shirt is all I could ever ask for. The final scene, played in fencing jackets is sleek and sexy (I have a weakness for fencing jackets).
Oh Tennant. I love David Tennant, so much. After Hamlet's descent into madness I must admit I couldn't help but see Doctor Who in his performance, but the comparisons were quickly done away with. The banter delivered and received throughout the play was quick, natural and witty. Hamlet's madness was believable as a spoiled young man being a jerk, but also a mourning son at his wit's end. Hamlet's "To be or not to be", a speech that has never particularly thrilled me was shot and delivered so skillfully that I couldn't look away, neither could Tennant. The last 2 minutes is delivered directly to the camera without a blink. The man is a beast. The overall performance of Hamlet by Tennant was coherent, intimate and volatile. I loved it.
I can't say much for Patrick Stewart as Claudius. I knew he was a bad guy, but in my view he wasn't evil enough, but I suppose that might be the brilliance of it. His mother was nothing special until her closet scene. Her nervous laugh and cry after Hamlet bids her goodnight as he pulls away the old man's body was shattering. Ophelia was misused and pitiful. I still haven't decided about Laertes yet.
And "the rest is silence".
Just kidding, he just died again. I love that guy.