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Hamlet Review: Sir Ian McKellen Excels in New Adaptation

Ian McKellen wears a white coat in 2024 filmed version of the stage play Hamlet

Hamlet honours Shakespeare while bringing a refreshing thrill to the story. Sir Ian McKellen reprises his role and is as exuberant and captivating as ever.

One of the most enduring stories of all time receives a modern, age-blind twist. Sir Ian McKellen reprises his titular role in Hamlet, delightfully honouring Shakespeare while bringing a refreshing and dramatic thrill to the story. Many renditions of the Hamlet tragedy have been brought to the silver screen, but the latest is unique in that it takes place in the stunning Theatre Royal Windsor, utilizing nearly every room to encompass the story’s dramatic twists and turns. This was the first of the Theatre Royal Windsor’s stage productions following COVID-19, in 2021. Now, it will be available in cinemas for one night only. With support from the legendary Steven Berkoff, Jenny Seagrove, and Jonathan Hyde, Hamlet contains stellar acting and chemistry that translates well from the stage to the screen.

Ian McKellen, a veteran of the craft and well-equipped actor for a Shakespearean role, portrays Hamlet’s descent into madness superbly. He is as exuberant and captivating as ever. In the film’s opening scenes, he is dapper, mysterious, and mournful. Over the next two hours, his polished demeanour steadily unwinds into paranoia about his father’s death and continued distrust in his uncle.

While the play’s story is brought into modern times, its script remains true to Shakespeare’s writing. Hamlet is redressed as a psychological thriller but holds tightly to the vernacular beauty of the original story, seamlessly blending modern filmmaking with classic dialogue between each character. Some of the most popular lines are delivered well, such as “to be, or not to be, that is the question,” and one of my favourites, “rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.” One of the dangers of reimagining a classic is losing its foundational and beautiful factors, but Hamlet’s script successfully keeps them intact.

A woman sits on a swing in 2024 filmed version of the stage play Hamlet, starring Ian McKellen
Hamlet (Kaleidoscope Entertainment)

Hamlet thrives on a paradoxical, bold minimalism. It is bold and inventive in transforming the stage play into a cinematic experience, eschewing the route taken by other stage-to-film adaptations such as Hamilton, which simply filmed the musical as it was performed on Broadway. Instead, Hamlet ascends the heights of the Theatre Royal Windsor, sparking its main character’s fury and suspicion as he sees a ghost on the roof. It plunges into the basement for striking conflict and tension, and of course, utilizes the lovely stage as a centrepiece for crucial plot development. This film is a masterful adaptation, but still thrives on minimalism. It is a single-location film, taking place entirely in the confines of the Theatre, and relying solely on characters and props rather than special effects. Hamlet balances such innovative minimalism well; it is a dynamic and emotionally moving film.

Hamlet is a testament that, after a world of uncertainty due to COVID-19, theatre and cinema are strong, beautiful, and can outlast the most tumultuous times. It is a paean to the stage and the enduring wonder of Shakespeare, and further proof of Sir Ian McKellen’s awe-inspiring career.

Hamlet was released in UK Cinemas for one night only on 27 February, 2024 and will be available on DVDBlu-ray & Digital Download from 8 April.

Hamlet: Trailer (Kaleidoscope Entertainment)
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