In 2008 the Royal Shakespeare Company drew rave reviews for its production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which featured the Scottish actor David Tennant, star of the hit BBC science fiction show Doctor Who, as the tragically indecisive Prince of Denmark.
“Gregory Doran’s production is one of the most richly textured, best-acted versions of the play we have seen in years,” wrote Michael Billington in The Guardian. “And Tennant, as anyone familiar with his earlier work with the RSC would expect, has no difficulty in making the transition from the BBC’s Time Lord to a man who could be bounded in a nutshell and count himself a king of infinite space. He is a fine Hamlet whose virtues, and occasional vices, are inseparable from the production itself.”
The cast included Mariah Gale as Ophelia, Peter de Jersey as Horatio, Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius, Penny Downie as Gertrude, and Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame in what Charles Spencer of The Telegraph called “the strongest, scariest performance as Claudius I have seen. A modern tyrant in a surveillance state full of spies, informers and two-way mirrors in Doran’s thriller-like production, he presents a façade of smiling, bespectacled geniality.” Stewart also played the Ghost of Hamlet’s father.
“This is a Hamlet of quicksilver intelligence, mimetic vigour and wild humour,” wrote Billington: “one of the funniest I’ve ever seen.” According to Nicholas de Jongh of The Evening Standard, Tennant brought new insights into his character’s unpredictable behavior: “His humorous Hamlet emerges as an undiagnosed manic depressive, whose mood swings render him temperamentally incapable of fulfilling a revenge scenario.”
For those of us unable to see the stage production, we’re fortunate that Doran held the original cast together long enough to make a film version, first broadcast on BBC Two in 2009. You can watch the complete three-hour movie, beginning above and concluding below. And for more of Hamlet and Shakespeare, you can access text and audio versions of the great writer’s complete works in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books collections.