Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead


Reviewed by: David Stanners

Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead
"Every theatrical device in the book is here and everything that makes a film interesting is not."

"To be or not to be." That is the question Tom Stoppard must have been pondering while adapting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from stage to screen. Unfortunately the latter prevails.

This bizarre twist on Hamlet sees the spotlight shift towards two of the play's minor characters, Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman) and Guildenstern (Tim Roth), and their unwitting role in the Danish Prince's fate. Or is it their own fate? Who knows? Ask Stoppard, but the chances are he doesn't know either. What it's all about could be debated for probably about as long as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern revel in the rules of probability, existentialism and rhetorical banter. And, with the exception of their verbal tennis game, it would probably be just as tedious.

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Stoppard's idea is excellent and apparently works well as a play. Having not seen it, I cannot compare, but as a film, it leaves a lot to be desired. It's as if he has decided to transfer an obvious piece of theatre onto celluloid for the sheer hell of it. Every theatrical device in the book is here and everything that makes a film interesting is not. The long, laboured philosophical jockeying between the pair is ideal for the intimacy of a theatre, while the limited changes in scenery also lean heavily towards the stage.

The story of Hamlet - far more interesting than the two protagonist's buffoonery - is sidelined, as we follow the odd couple through their unusual rendezvous with the rest of the court luvvies, headed by The Player (Richard Dreyfuss). Oblivious to their role in the court until the end, they witness history in the making and a very different slant on Shakespeare's original offering.

The story on screen is convoluted, perhaps purposely to keep the audience guessing, alongside Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But it's too clever for its own good, and the constant ramblings from the pair soon become really irritating, not because they're badly done, but because there's nothing else going on besides to sustain attention. The parallel development of Hamlet and his court is cast into too dark a shadow to provide a necessary backdrop to the duo's antics.

Still, Oldman and Roth are outstanding, gelling like old time buddies. Their bantering and philosophical musings run like Swiss clockwork. Sadly, this is the only redeeming element in an equation that fails to add up. Stick to the stage, Stoppard!

Reviewed on: 23 Apr 2003
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Tom Stoppard directs his first play about minor characters from Hamlet.
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Director: Tom Stoppard

Writer: Tom Stoppard

Starring: Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss, Joanna Roth, Iain Glen, Donald Sumpter, Joanna Miles, Ian Richardson

Year: 1990

Runtime: 127 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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