Tom Stoppard’s screen adaptation of his own play is an offbeat comedy starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Stoppard puts the two men front-and-centre, riffing on the events and actions from Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead uses the basic story of Hamlet, but Stoppard adds many of his own elements to create an independent story that never feels like theatrical fan-fiction. The titular duo become pawns in a familial power-play between young Prince Hamlet (Iain Glen) and his uncle Claudius (Douglas Sumpter), following the death of his father The King. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern become caught in the middle. They unwittingly side with Claudius and that ultimately leads to their undoing.
Gary Oldman and Tim Roth make for an engaging pair of leads and they’re able to play the stupidity of the characters whilst also maintaining a sense of humanity. Shakespeare didn’t draw too much detail around Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and while they may be from one of his most well known plays, both Oldman and Roth are able to use Stoppard’s text to add meat to the The Bard’s bare bones. Richard Dreyfus has fun as The Lead Player, another minor character in the original play but an important driving force in Stoppard’s piece.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a quirky little movie that’s a must for those interested in the works of Shakespeare. It’s a curious piece that makes a great accompaniment to the many stage and screen interpretations of Hamlet. Game of Thrones fans might also get a kick when they see Iain Glen and Douglas Sumpter onscreen decades before they knew that winter was coming.
This DVD of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead comes stacked with special features. You can literally spend hours in the company of Tom Stoppard over the course of two interviews, where the writer-director covers nearly everything that you’d want him to cover. There ate also great interviews with Tim Roth, Gary Oldman and Richard Dreyfus. This is a detailed release.