A Small British Invasion

It seems like this week is blessed with an abundance of exciting British television, softening the blow of the EastEnders cancellation on KTEH. 

David Tennant and Patrick Stewart in Hamlet

First there was last night’s Great Performances with the RSC’s latest version of Hamlet.  It was an intriguing production starring Patrick Stewart and David Tennant.  Stewart seems ageless, and I wonder if he’s got a scary portrait in an attic somewhere.  He’s barely changed since Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Tennant is best known as the last Doctor Who, and his Hamlet had much of the same manic energy.  He had some quiet moments, though, and I particularly liked his “to be or not to be” soliloquy.  Tennant is one of those guys who doesn’t have a single ounce of spare flesh on him.  There’s a part of me that wants to feed him and fatten him up.  Oliver Ford Davies was excellent as Polonius.  I didn’t particularly like Ophelia.  Her mad scenes were effective, but I like an Ophelia who’s believable in her sane scenes as well.  I wasn’t convinced that she ever had a connection with Tennant’s Hamlet.  (Besides, she was wearing so little as mad Ophelia that it was impossible to believe “her clothes spread wide, And mermaidlike awhile they bore her up.”  Not that the costuming can be blamed on the actress.)  I was also left uncertain by the relationship between Claudius and Gertrude.   I think one must be left in no doubt that these two have a strong sexual charge between them, otherwise their hasty marriage makes little sense.  Then again, I had to leave the room a few times during the three and a half hour broadcast, so I plan to watch this Hamlet again to look for what I might have missed. 

Back in 2001 I saw the RSC’s Hamlet with Samuel West, and it had many things in common with Tennant’s.  It was also done in contemporary dress.  The royal court was moved to the corporate world, with lots of people in business suits playing yes-men.  Hamlet was a slacker in a hoodie with bare feet.  It was excellent.  Going further back, I witnessed Keanu Reeves play Hamlet in Winnipeg, Canada.  I get a lot of teasing for it, but it was a wonderful adventure.  Winnipeg in February was the coldest place I’ve ever been, and I had a great time partying in my hotel with people from all over the world.  Keanu Reeves is a very physical actor, and his best scenes involved movement, namely the mad scenes and the sword fighting.  For many of his soliloquies, he was placed on a small platform with too much costume to allow him to move.  Vocally he is at his weakest and so were these scenes.  Still, I never regretted seeing this production.

This week a new series of Doc Martin begins on my local PBS station.  Martin Clunes is brilliant in this role, a cranky misanthrope with a phobia of blood, forced to give up surgery in London to be a GP in a small coastal town.  Then there’s a new series of Foyle’s War on Masterpiece Mystery.  There’s nobody better than Michael Kitchen as Foyle, and I really like Honeysuckle Weeks as his driver and Anthony Howell as his trusty sidekick.  The war ended in the last series, so the future of this series was in jeopardy.  I’m so pleased they’re back!

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