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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Literature > Shakespeare > Play > TV > British TV > Poetry > Stage > Discovering Hamlet (1990/Athena/Acorn DVD Set) + John Gielgud – Ages Of Man (1966/E1 DVD)

Discovering Hamlet (1990/Athena/Acorn DVD Set) + John Gielgud – Ages Of Man (1966/E1 DVD)


Picture: C     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Main Programs: B-



The classical arts have such long histories and depth that it often takes a lifetime just to understand some of them completely.  Two new DVD releases of classic TV programs on the subject shed even more light on important works, their authors and the artists keeping these works alive.


Discovering Hamlet is a really interesting documentary about Derek Jacobi’s obsession with Shakespeare’s great work and his efforts to bring it alive, narrated by Patrick Stewart, but the big surprise is seeing a very young Kenneth Branagh on the verge of his permanent association with The Bard working on this stage version with best-friend Jacobi as he was about to have a critical and commercial breakthrough hit with his feature film version of Henry V in 1989.  Of course, Branagh (currently helming Marvel Comics’ Thor film) eventually would make the most feature films based on Shakespeare’s works since Sir Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles.  This peaked with his grand 70mm production of Hamlet in 1996, now on Blu-ray, which you can read more about at this link:





For those who wished that disc had more extras, this is a set you will really want to get.  This was taped in 1988, but much more than the final program exists and is included on this set.  You get a 10-page booklet from Athena inside the DVD case with illustrations and an essay by Mark Olshaker in line with the fine booklets the company includes in all their DVD releases.  The DVDs add a new Jacobi interview (34 minutes at 1.78 X 1) that reflects on the production and all that has happened since, the bonus disc offers almost three hours of profiles, vintage interviews with many of those who participated in the production, behind the scenes footage and Jacobi with earlier thoughts on the role.  We also get stills, a Stewart text biography and fine Hamlet Through The Years profile showing all the actors who landed the role and added to its performance legacy.  Now that is a great set of extras.


One of the actors who made his mark as Hamlet is the great Sir John Gielgud, an advocate for the arts for decades and one whose recorded works on the subject are now just arriving on DVD.  This included another Athena release in the Six Centuries Of Verse set that you can read more about at this link:





E1 has dug further back into priceless TV archives to release John Gielgud – Ages Of Man, a 1966 Emmy-Winning two-part production with the brilliant actor pulling off a one-man show (assembled by George Rylands) performing over 100 minutes of choice pieces from Shakespeare’s best work, making this a great companion to go with Discovering Hamlet.  The Archive Of American Television was behind its rediscovery and restoration, now for everyone to see and this was just before PBS existed and actually shown originally on CBS.


Gielgud’s grasp of The Bard is superior and as good as anyone who ever spoke it, making this an enjoyable experience and key Shakespeare-on-video release.  Even though the footage is older, once you start watching and get into it, it is hard to stop and his explanation of each work is terrific.  Though now known to most as a character actor doing comics roles (the original Arthur picture with Dudley Moore) and dramatic roles (11 Harrowhouse) or even dark TV work (the Neck episode of Roald Dahl’s Tales Of The Unexpected), he was seamlessly underplaying his vast talents.  This is a master actor in great form and I wish it were longer.


We also get some great extras here including a booklet about the original production and its legacy with a solid essay by writer/scholar Michael Billington, while the DVD adds excerpts from Ian McKellan’s Acting Shakespeare (also on DVD from E1).


The 1.33 X 1 color image on Hamlet is not bad, but just about all of it comes from PAL analog video that is a little softer throughout than I would have liked, though always seems to have good color and is in decent shape, while the 1.33 X 1 black & white image on Ages is from a film copy of the original video performance.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Hamlet is simple and holds up better than the PAL tape, while the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Ages is older and more limited, yet the restoration has made Gielgud sound clearer than you might expect.

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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