Hamlet (1980)

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Released 9-Sep-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1980
Running Time 213:50
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (107:19) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Rodney Bennett

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Derek Jacobi
Claire Bloom
Patrick Stewart
Eric Porter
Lalla Ward
David Robb
Patrick Allen
Robert Swann
Jonathan Hyde
Geoffrey Bateman
Emrys James
Jason Kemp
Geoffrey Beevers
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Dudley Simpson
William Walton
Dave Hillier

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.29:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     In the late 1970's the BBC began a gargantuan undertaking - presenting all of William Shakespeare's plays for its television audience. The determination was to offer each play as a theatrical experience, with particular attention paid to adherence to the original text and a simplicity of presentation that would not overshadow the performances of the finest actors Britain had to offer. In this production of Hamlet, their intentions are supremely successful.

     Derek Jacobi is Hamlet, who returns from university abroad to find his father the king dead under extremely suspicious circumstances; his mother rapidly married to his uncle, who has assumed the throne; and a Denmark under threat of invasion from Norway. He is visited by the ghost of his father who commands revenge for his wrongful slaying, and Hamlet is swirled into a vortex of political machinations and ethical dilemmas. In spite of his genuine affections for the highly strung Ophelia (Lalla Ward), their relationship is the subject of Machiavellian power struggles as the new king Claudius (Patrick Stewart) and Ophelia's father Polonius (Eric Porter) grasp for power. To buy himself some time, Hamlet feigns madness, but as private agendas swirl out of control, he is caught up in the chaos all the way to its tragic conclusion.

     Hamlet is one of Shakespeare's most famous plays, and certainly regarded as the benchmark standard for actors who tackle the title role. Derek Jacobi is, to my mind, the supreme Hamlet. His portrayal is sharp, witty, human, complex and, in the truly classical sense, tragic. He resists the temptation to offer us a mad Hamlet, but instead, a philosophical and flawed character who is trying to deal with the madness of the corrupt society to which he belongs. Patrick Stewart is wonderfully malevolent as Claudius, but I confess to being less impressed with Ward's Ophelia.

     In watching this play, I was again reminded of how much of the Bard's verses have transferred into our common vernacular. Virtually every scene is peppered with little epithets that have become part of our standard parlance. One of my personal favourites is:

"For ‘tis the sport to have the engineer
Hoist with his owne petard"

    A little further examination debunks the common myth that a 'petard' is a sword - it is actually a grenade (named from the Roman word for 'fart'). I just love the outrageous understatement of being 'hoist' by an incendiary device!

      Shakespeare had an extraordinary talent for writing on themes with such incisive comments about the human condition that they remain fresh and relevant for each new generation which comes to them. This particular tale about a battle between an unbidden king and the one man who opposes him strikes rich chords in the modern political arena (is that Hail to the Chief I hear in the background?). Edmund Burke's quote, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” springs to mind whilst watching this. But therein lies Hamlet's dilemma. He knows he must act, but every path is paved with violence and evil. How does an essentially moral individual make appropriate choices in such a climate? As the soldier Marcellus observes, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark," but how is that remedied? We grapple still with these questions, and Hamlet is probably the ultimate theatrical questioner! He voices for us our own inner confusions and contradictions - our noblest best intentions, and our basest and most self-interested acts.

     If you have always been put off by the language of Shakespeare, let me assure you that if you just allow it to wash over you for a while, you'll soon get into its rhythms. This production has English subtitles available, and you may find it easier to watch with the subs turned on, at least for a time, whilst you tune-in your ear. The staging of this particular presentation is wonderfully minimalist - maintaining its theatrical essence, and I think it's an excellent artistic choice. The performances of this stellar cast bring the story to life without undue interference from the production values, although there are a couple of incidences of rather clumsy chroma-key shimmer, but that is a consequence of the technology of its time, and should be forgiven and then ignored.

     This production is, to my mind, the definitive Hamlet. It is supremely performed, sensitive to its source material and remarkably relevant. Highly recommended.

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Transfer Quality


     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.29:1, FullScreen which would be its original format.

     Given the vintage of the source material, we're going to have to make some allowances here. There is a cast over the transfer which I suspect comes from the stock and there is significant evidence of low level noise. Grain levels can be rather gritty at times, and the contrast is a little on the soft side.

     The colours are rather pallid overall and there are a couple of moments where the colour actually shifts rather badly, particularly at 80:48 where it pulses quite significantly. The blacks are rarely black and the whites are a little muddy too.

     You can't really call the chroma-key shimmer an artefact per se, as it is more a reflection of 70's/80's technology than a modern transfer issue, but it does have the effect of momentarily taking one out of the action. Beyond that, the actual transfer does not appear to commit any additional sins.

     This is a RSDL disc, with the layer change at 107:19, between Chapters 15 & 16. This is not a distracting change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The soundtrack is delivered in English Dolby Digital 2.0.

      The dialogue is nice and crisp and there are no audio sync problems in evidence. The subtitles are somewhat truncated and there is some pretty dodgy spelling which I found pretty surprising, but they give the overall idea sufficiently to help you get your head around the dialogue.

     The musical score by Dudley Simpson is very supportive to the action.

     The use of surround and subwoofer is minimal, but this is not inappropriate in this dialogue driven film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     The menu is basically static with theme music.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     So far as I can see, the R1 version comes as part of a boxed set which would represent a significant financial investment. For a single play presentation, go the R4.


     This play still resonates with modern life and is a classy and intelligent presentation of one of the Bard's most famous works.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

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