Posts Tagged ‘madness’

Well, it worked for Baz Luhrmann, when he updated Romeo and Juliet to a modern day setting.  In this film, director Michael Almereyda updates Hamlet and shifts the action to corporate New York in 2000.  Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) is mourning the loss of his father, who was the CEO of The Denmark Corporation.  He believes that his father was in fact murdered by his Uncle Claudius (Kyle McLachlan) who has gone on to marry Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Diane Verona) in distasteful haste, and is also the new CEO of the corporation.

Hamlet is determined to avenge his father’s death.  Meanwhile, he struggles with his own loose grip on sanity, as does his former girlfriend Ophelia (Julia Stiles).

I’m not completely sure what to make of this adaptation.  I like the idea – I like Shakespeare’s plays in their own settings, but I do like to see them in new and unfamiliar settings, which may entice other people to try them out.  This version comes in just shy of two hours, which is pretty short, considering that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play (the very faithful Kenneth Branagh adaptation is four hours long).  Certain parts have been cut out, but the essence of the story remains intact, and Shakespeare’s original language is used throughout, although not in its entirety.  The cast overall were strong – Ethan Hawke is an under-rated actor, and he captures Hamlet’s fine line between grief and insanity very well.  I also liked Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber as Ophelia and Laertes respectively.  Kyle MacLachlan did a fine job as Claudius, while Diane Verona was excellent as Gertrude, and really captured the character.  Hamlet’s ‘friends’ (if you have seen the play, you will understand why I use the term loosely) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are played by Steve Zahn and Dechen Thurman – who is the brother of Ethan Hawke’s then wife Uma Thurman – and Zahn in particular shone in his role.  I also really liked Karl Geary as Horatio, Hamlet’s true friend until the end.

The cast was not perfect however – unfortunately, the usually excellent Bill Murray seemed lost as Polonius.  I’ve seen Murray in straight roles before and he is normally great in them, but I didn’t think he suited this particular character at all, and just seemed to be reading his lines with no inflection or meaning whatsoever.  It’s a shame – Polonius could have been great with a different actor, but overall this did not detract from my enjoyment of the film.

What did occur to me however was that if I didn’t know the story of Hamlet, I think I would have had trouble following what was happening.  It’s not the language; it was more that scenes seemed particularly disjointed from one another, and it seemed to me that it was jumping about a bit – first concentrating on this, then concentrating on that.  On that basis, I would definitely recommend that anyone planning on watching this familiarises themselves with the story first.

On a positive note, New York City is actually a very good backdrop for the story…aesthetically it looks perfect, and I also loved the music.  I’m not sure that I can forgive the famous To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy being recited in voice-over while our hero roams a Blockbuster video store.  There was probably some symbolism there, but it escaped me.

Overall, if you are looking for an adaptation of Hamlet, this is not the best one to start with.  However, if you are a fan of the play and want to see this version for that reason, you might find more to enjoy than you expect.

Year of release: 2000

Director: Michael Almereyda

Producers: Jason Blum, John Sloss, Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby, Callum Greene

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Michael Almereyda

Main cast: Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Verona, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Karl Geary, Steve Zahn, Dechen Thurman


Click here for my review of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of Hamlet.


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Last time I saw Jonathan Slinger at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, he was playing Malvolio in the comedy Twelfth Night – and he very nearly stole the show.  Here, he takes on an entirely different role – that of Hamlet, the tortured, grieving young Prince of Denmark, who seeks to avenge the death of his father, who Hamlet is convinced was killed by Claude, the brother of Hamlet’s father.  Claude is now married to Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, and is also King of Denmark.

This particular performance seems to have divided the critics and the audience; I fall firmly on the side of ‘loved it’.  The play was enthralling throughout, and the whole cast were excellent.  Slinger was outstanding – his Hamlet teetered on the thin line between sanity and madness; his grief and fury at the loss of his father, and the subsequent rapid remarriage of his mother were all too believable.  He also injected some humour into some of his exchanges and mannerisms.  The whole cast was actually wonderful – as well as Slinger, I loved Pippa Nixon as Ophelia, who loved Hamlet but was tragically caught up in his extreme emotions, and who eventually suffered a breakdown with terrible consequences.  Alex Waldmann was perfect, and very endearing as Horatio, Hamlet’s kind (and rational) friend, and Robin Soans provided some great comedy as Polonius.

For this production, the play was set in the 1960s, with one character wearing a CND symbol on his coat, and Hamlet sharing a spliff with his old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  The stage was made to look like a gymnasium, complete with the necessary fencing equipment needed for the final scenes.

My favourite scenes were the famous ‘To Be or Not to Be’ soliloquy, and the final devastating scenes.  After the tense build-up, the showdown needed to be dramatic and shocking – and it was.

All in all, a wonderful production, and I recommend it whole-heartedly to fans of the play, and fans of good drama.

(To find out more about this production, or about the Royal Shakespeare Company, please click here.)


Click here for my review of the 2000 film adaptation of Hamlet.


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This film is not a biography of Mozart; rather it is a tale of obsession and revenge.  Antonio Salieri, himself a famous and respected composer, is a great admirer of Mozart’s work, but when he meets Mozart, he is upset that such a tremendous talent is in the hands of a vulgar and crass person.  (Note: I do not know how realistic the portrayal of Mozart as shown in this film is, but certainly according to Mozart’s letters, he had a crude sense of humour.)  Salieri cannot believe that God has chosen to channel such beauty through Mozart, and is upset that Mozart will probably be remembered for all time, while he himself will probably sink into obscurity.  The film starts with the attempted suicide of Salieri, after which the story is told mainly in flashback, with Salieri recounting to a Priest how he came to know Mozart, and eventually seek revenge upon the young composer for his talent, of which he was so jealous.

F. Murray Abraham won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Salieri (one of eight Oscars eleven nominations for this film), and I can see why (although he was up against Jeff Bridges for Starman, and when Jeff is up for an Oscar, I always always always root for him to win!)  Additionally, Tom Hulce, who played Mozart, was nominated for the same award.  He too put in an excellent performance, but I do think that Abraham had the edge here.  He does a fine job of making us understand his motivations, and the reason that he both detests and admires his rival.  Despite his underhand behaviour, he does elicit some sympathy for his pains.

Naturally, the music is sublime.  I am not a particular fan of classical music or opera, both of which feature prominently in this film, but I could certainly appreciate it in this context.  The costumes were also very lavish and beautiful, and the Oscar which was won for Best Costume Design was also very well deserved.

There was some comic relief, mainly provided by Hulce, but this was mainly a touching and somewhat disturbing film – and when I say disturbing, I mean it in a good way.  It demonstrates how a sane and rational person can let their jealousy turn to obsession, and cause them to act out of character; in the hands of a lesser actor, this might not have worked, but fortunately, F. Murray Abraham handles it incredibly well.  It’s not a short film; I saw the director’s cut which is just shy of three hours – but it is an enjoyable and absorbing watch.  I would certainly recommend it, whether or not you are a fan of Mozart’s music.

Year of music: 1984

Director: Milos Forman

Producers: Michael Hausman, Bertil Ohlsson, Saul Zaentz

Writer: Peter Shaffer

Main cast: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones

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This is the 1997 adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel.  Samantha Morton is the eponymous heroine, while Ciaran Hinds takes on the role of Rochester.  Unfortunately, I found this version disappointing.  Morton certainly looks right for Jane, and there is no doubt that both Morton and Hinds are accomplished actors.  However, I found myself wondering whether either of them were even familiar with the story or their characters.  Jane’s quiet strength, which shone through in the novel (and in certain adaptations) isn’t visible here – instead, the character is almost petulant and unpleasant to Rochester – and Rochester, such a layered and beautifully drawn person in the book – is nothing so much as a loud-mouthed bully in this version.  Hinds seems incapable of talking, and chooses to shout all of his lines.

Also, large parts of the book are cut out of the story.  I feel that this is the problem with trying to tell this story in a two hour film – it just can’t be done (which is probably why my favourite adaptation is unquestionably the mini-series from 2006, starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens).  Even worse, the chopping of certain parts of the novel means that the film might seem disjointed to anyone who hasn’t read Jane Eyre.  The developing feelings between Jane and Rochester seems too sudden, and although the character of St John makes an appearance, it is short and irrelevant to the way the story unfolds in this version (and he isn’t related to Jane either).

It isn’t completely bad though.  Gemma Jones does a lovely job as Mrs Fairfax, and the scenery and photography looks lovely.  Overall though, this is worth watching only if you are trying (like me) to see all the adaptations of this novel. Otherwise, I would suggest skipping this version, and trying the 2006 mini-series.

Year of release: 1997

Director: Robert Young

Producers: Delia Fine, Sally Head, Greg Brenman, Hugh Warren

Writers: Charlotte Bronte (novel), Kay Mellor, Richard Hawley, Peter Wright

Main cast: Samantha Morton, Ciaran Hinds, Gemma Jones, David Gant


Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 2006 mini-series.

Click here for my review of the 1996 film adaptation.

Click here for my review of the 1943 film adaptation.


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Paul Sheldon is an author, most famous for his collection of stories about Misery Chastain, a heroine loved and adored by many.  But Paul is sick of Misery and wants to concentrate on other novels, so he has killed off the character.  But then he crashes his car in a snowstorm in a part of the USA that he is not familiar with.  He would have died had he not been ‘rescued’ by Annie Wilkes, who describes herself as his (and Misery’s) biggest fan.  Annie is furious that he has killed off her favourite character and demands that he write another novel, where the heroine is brought back to life. And what Annie wants, Annie gets…It doesn’t take long before Paul realises that Annie is dangerously unstable, and now, instead of writing for a living, he is writing for his life.

I really enjoyed this book.  For most of the book there are only two characters – Paul and Annie – which gives it a claustrophobic atmosphere.  There is also real tension within the pages – I found myself holding my breath while reading on as quickly as possible in order to see what happened next.  Annie is a terrifying character, and also a rather pathetic man.  Paul is our hero of sorts – although he is clearly portrayed as a somewhat selfish man, who is forced to draw on reserves of strength he didn’t know he possessed.

Although there are just two main characters, it was plot that really kept the book rolling along at such a quick pace.  It was established very early on that Annie was deranged (although the extent of her madness does not become clear until later).  It was also clear that she was able to out-manoeuvre Paul in all imaginable situations. The reason that this book was so hard to put down was to see just how (if at all) Paul would escape this woman.

There are excerpts of ‘Misery’s Return’ – the book which Annie forces Paul to write – included in the book.  This was perhaps un-necessary (I only wanted to know what happened to Paul, not to his most popular character), but it did not detract from the main story at all.  I always think the scariest stories are ones which you actually believe could happen – as is the case with this one.  Very highly recommended to fans of the genre.  However, due to some of the graphic violent scenes, it may not be suitable for some younger readers.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is a truly fabulous book.  The narrator is an unnamed man (in the film adaptation he is named Zorg), who at the start of the book is a week into his relationship with the beautiful and wild Betty. However, as the relationship progresses, it becomes clear that Betty is dangerously fragile and wildly unpredictable, and leads them both into some scary situations. However, our narrator loves Betty above all else, and is prepared to put up with anything just to be with her, and is prepared to do anything that will make her happy. Eventually Betty harms herself to such an extent that she ends up in hospital, as an empty shell of a person and merely a shadow of her former self. The narrator can not stand to see her this way, and finds his own way of dealing with it.

I am struggling to find words to describe this beautiful and intense love story. By turns happy, sad and funny, it is a wonderfully written and believable book.  The characters are beautifully drawn and so fully fleshed out that I felt totally immersed in their lives.

The best advice I can give anybody about it is ‘read it’. At the beginning of the story, the narrator displays a contentment with life and is happy with his lot (as long as he has Betty, nothing else bothers him). But as the book progresses, his tone and attitude changes – we can see through his narration how life is bringing him down and making him sad, but still he cannot bear to live without his Betty, no matter how difficult life with her might be.

This is some very clever and moving writing, and without doubt, I will be reading this book again many times in the future.  The book made me gasp, laugh and cry.  Very moving and very lovely.  A real love story with a difference.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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