ByJames McDonald, writer at
James is a Movie Critic and Celebrity Interviewer with over 30 years of experience as an Award-Winning Filmmaker.
James McDonald

Two minor characters from the play “Hamlet,” stumble around unaware of their scripted lives and unable to deviate from them.

In 1964, English playwright Tom Stoppard put a twist on William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” by writing a one-act play titled “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Meet King Lear,” which eventually became his Tony-winning play, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.” It became a great success and in 1990, Stoppard developed a screen adaptation of the play which starred Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss.

The movie (and play) centers on two minor characters from “Hamlet,” Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman) and Guildenstern (Tim Roth). The King of Denmark has summoned them to Elsinore Castle so that they may determine what afflicts Hamlet. Along the way, they encounter a traveling troupe of tragedians, led by their leader, simply named the Player (Richard Dreyfuss), who is also on his way to Elsinore Castle and who happens to know a lot about everything while our hapless duo seems to know very little about anything. On their travels, they ponder their existence, the meaning of life, and curious as to why they cannot seem to remember anything from their past.

They are magically transported from location to location, never remembering how they got there, all the while, trying to keep focused on Hamlet, at the behest of the King. Eventually, they wind up on a boat en route to England where they inadvertently discover Hamlet’s fate, and, ultimately, their own.

The best way to describe “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead,” is to imagine that while “Hamlet” is being rendered on stage, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, being minor characters, are backstage, killing time in between their performances. In essence, it is a play within a play, concentrating on two inconsequential characters from a major production and following them around in between their moments within the play. The film is fraught with terrific performances, specifically Goldman and Roth, who both shine in their respective roles but it is Richard Dreyfuss who steals the limelight in the role of a noble yet ceremonious dramatist.

My only gripe with the movie is that it almost seems better suited for the stage, where it originally emanated. Having a background in film and theatre, I have a pretty good understanding of what works and what doesn’t and while the film’s adaptation is entertaining and engaging, there are nuances and subtleties that succeed wonderfully on stage but not so much in film. And vice versa. In the end, if you’re looking for an amusing and lively way to spend two hours, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” will not disappoint.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD January 12th

To win a copy of the movie on Blu-ray click here.

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