Review: Shakespeare Uncovered – David Tennant on Hamlet


Shakespeare Uncovered - David Tennant on Hamlet“In Hamlet, David Tennant whose own RSC performance was a huge hit, meets other actors who have played the role – from the legendary David Warner in the 1960s to the recent Jude Law. He also tries, alongside Simon Russell Beale and Ben Whishaw, to unravel the meaning of the play and the reason why it is considered the greatest play Shakespeare ever wrote.”

With this being some anniversary or other of the great Will Shakey, there’s an awful lot of actoreyness on the BBC at the moment. In this final episode of Shakespeare Uncovered, David Tennant’s take on Hamlet was one of the better dissections of a classic in under an hour. Hats off to BBC2 for attempting to explain and impress just how great it is. You know there’s a ‘but’ coming, though, don’t you…

Shakespeare Uncovered suffers from the same issues which every arts show talking to or about plays and acting suffers. There’s something slightly cloying watching actors talk to other actors about the business of acting. Then there’s the unsettling false modesty of actors talking on camera about their own process of acting, playing a version of themselves to explain just how they constructed their extraordinary award-winning performances; how they and their characters are “well, just ordinary blokes, really, but, well, like, in extraordinary circumstances. Y’know.”

Tennant is slowly succumbing to his own National Treasure status, and, bless him, knows precisely what facets of his gently Scottish, self-deprecating and cheeky-chappy persona to pitch to camera, or when to trot out his darker Dr Who glare for the serious bits of analysis. Yes, we know how hard work is playing Hamlet. That’s because it’s Hamlet.

So Tennant interviews the grounded Ben Wishaw, the grand David Warner, the Hollywood A-lister Jude law; we get some academics for respectability, and a lot of London streets and skyline, intercut with the most seen building on TV this year, the Globe on the South Bank.

The interviews become a little too ‘Match of the Day’ where each Shakespearian couplet is pored over by acting and directing pundits, in a friendly but still competitive ‘Mock the Week‘ style contest – you can feel the couplet-envy leaking out of the screen.

Surprising, then, that he discovers that Hamlet is a play full of questions rather than answers – “who to believe, who to trust, how to live and how to love, how to understand life and how to face death;” that “all the actors who have played it seem to share is that the process of acting the role is deeply and profoundly personal.” Perhaps that is why audiences “also feel that the play touches them more than any other play before or since.”

That’ll be another inexpensive tick in the box for the BBC Board of Trustees. SC

Shakespeare Uncovered: David Tennant on Hamlet
Series Producer: Richard Denton
Presenter: David Tennant
Director: Nicola Stockley
Broadcasts BBC TwoTue 17 Jul 2012 23:20 BBC Two

3 thoughts on “Review: Shakespeare Uncovered – David Tennant on Hamlet”

  1. Go easy. It’s pop-art culture-crit. If it makes Shakespeare open to more people, good on it.

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