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CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

1948, 1969, 1980, 1990, 1990, 1996, 2000

Hamlet in First FolioPage from First Folio, 1623
Publication details ▽ Publication details △


First performed
1601 or 1602

First published
1603, in the First Quarto

Literary form


Writing language

Author's country

Five acts, 4,042 lines, approx. 29,000 words

Hamlet 1980 scene
Derek Jacobi is acclaimed, though less forceful than others, as Hamlet in an exhaustive BBC version.

Hamlet the Whiner

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1980): Director Rodney Bennett; featuring Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom, Patrick Stewart, Lalla Ward

If you want the whole unexpurgated play at its whole unexpurgated length, you could do a lot worse than Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, a 1980 BBC production running a full three and a half hours and starring Derek Jacobi.

Jacobi's Hamlet has been highly praised—a few have even called it the very best Hamlet. Jacobi was quite experienced with the play, early in his theatre career playing Laertes to Peter O'Toole's Hamlet and taking an acclaimed production of Hamlet, with himself in the title role, on a world tour, before essaying Hamlet for the BBC's Shakespeare series. And he is obviously a very fine actor. (See his brilliant breakout performance in I, Claudius four years before.)

But he's not Hamlet. At least not my Hamlet. This is a weak, whimpering prince. An unrealistic dreamer.

Like Nicol Williamson's Hamlet, Jacobi's is probably really mad. But his rages are less fearsome, more like tantrums.

And talk about age. In his forties, Jacobi is heavily made up to hide the wrinkles, giving him a ghoulish appearance tending towards effeminacy. Jacobi is obviously a wonderful actor and you can see wonderful acting in every line, in his voice, in his face, in his eyes, in his whole body—throughout Hamlet. His monologues are delivered directly to the camera, as though he's addressing you the viewer, which is very effective.

Clips from Derek Jacobi's acclaimed, if stagy, Hamlet for the BBC in 1980.

Yet he never convinces me until the very end of the play that he actually is that bold, impulsive prince bent on revenge.

His uncle King Claudius is actually performed by a younger man, Patrick Stewart, just a few years before his television stint as the Enterprise's Captain Picard. With his commanding voice, Stewart is strong and charismatic—which is a problem because he almost makes us sympathize with him against the annoyingly wimpy Hamlet.

Claire Bloom, as Queen Gertrude, is ravishing as ever in her middle age, seeming a better match for Jacobi's Hamlet than Ophelia, played by the slight Lalla Ward of Dr. Who fame.

Despite being a television production, this is a stage-based production of Hamlet. It doesn't try to be otherwise with its overhead lighting, scene-long shots and unadorned soundtrack. One for live-theatre fans and English literature students.

— Eric


CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

1948, 1969, 1980, 1990, 1990, 1996, 2000