Friday, 14 March 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1996: Derek Jacobi in Hamlet

Derek Jacobi did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Claudius in Hamlet.

This performance represents a change for two things that are not always that interesting. The first being the character of Claudius, Hamlet's Uncle who is also married Hamlet's mother that Hamlet presumes murdered his father the original King. In Olivier's version for example he really does not make much of an impression other than being a target. The other thing not always interesting is Jacobi who seems always cast as fairly uninteresting British guy in films like the King's Speech and My Week Marilyn. Now Jacobi is not bad so to speak in those, but he is never terribly interesting. Seeing him in those roles might give you the wrong impression that Jacobi is always a dull actor, the simple watching of one of his Shakespearean performances will fix that quite quickly though.

Derek Jacobi is actually one of the connective tissues between Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh as before appearing in Branagh first directorial effort Henry V Jacobi starred along with Olivier in the filmed version of Othello. Anyway Jacobi is another master of the language in league with Olivier and Branagh. No doubt his mastery contributed to Branagh's casting of Jacobi as the chorus in Henry V. Branagh proceeded to cast him once again this time as Claudius. Jacobi's success with this role can be witnessed from one of the earliest scenes of the film where he is presenting his new wife to his people. Jacobi presents a different Claudius in this scene that is usually seen. Jacobi presents Claudius as a man truly enjoying his position power as well as marriage, but he actually suggests a real command of a King.

Throughout the film, with help from the complete version of the play, Jacobi is very effective by showing Claudius's own transformation as Hamlet's behavior becomes more suspicious. When Hamlet's madness seems to have no rhyme or reason to anyone other than Hamlet himself, Jacobi rather merely treating Hamlet like some sort of nuisance is far more effective by portraying an actual concern for his nephew. There certainly are most definitely traces of his concern for his own health, but Jacobi brings a greater depth of feeling with his work. There is the suggestion in his performance that he actually does to a certain extent care about his nephew's mental health. Jacobi never wastes his reactions in any of his scenes given a fuller portrait of Claudius mentally processing what Hamlet is doing.

Claudius changes his response to Hamlet one Hamlet organizes his mousetrap which is to use players to basically show a reenactment of the King's murder to get a response out of Claudius to show his guilt. Jacobi brilliantly handles Claudius's reaction making it a strong emotional response but he does not go too far. He makes it noticeable without a doubt, but it's far more powerful because Jacobi doesn't make it excessive. Jacobi even greater scene comes instantly afterwards when Claudius quickly goes to a confessional to try to plead forgiveness to God. Jacobi actually succeeds in stealing these scenes from Branagh, and that's not because Branagh is slouching in his role in anyway. Jacobi brings such a genuine poignancy as he shows the palatable guilt in Claudius, guilt worthy of a man who has murdered his own brother.

Claudius's reveal though also causes Hamlet to become rather sloppy in his plan, and it becomes obvious that Hamlet knows Claudius's crime. Jacobi adjusts his performance magnificently as Claudius becomes an active villain who is trying to plot the demise of his nephew. Unlike the other Claudius's who seem woefully inept, Jacobi manages to make the King an imposing figure. As I said earlier he actually carries a command with his performance to suggest his role as the King, and he transfers this command to Claudius as he tries to deal with the threat to his power, Hamlet. Jacobi is very effective by suggesting a greater intelligence in Claudius as he slowly tries to reason out what exactly to do with his problem. Jacobi brings a strong menace with his portrayal, particularly in the scenes where he believes he is organizing Hamlet's death, as he reveals the side of Claudius that slew his own brother.

Jacobi is terrific because he never allows himself to be forgotten behind Branagh's Hamlet, he always keeps Claudius as notable presence in every scene he is in, even the final duel which is one of the great highlights of Branagh's performance. Jacobi is great in the scene playing the deviousness of Claudius well behind his apparent jovial face who just wants to praise his nephew. Jacobi infuses the right deviousness in the scene as Claudius attempts to rid himself of his problem. Jacobi's best moment in the scene comes when his wife Gertrude decides to drink from the cup that Claudius purposefully poisoned for Hamlet. Jacobi is fantastic in the moment because it is not just an oh well moments, but Jacobi portrays Claudius as honestly heartbroken that his scheme has killed his wife who he did indeed love.

Derek Jacobi gives a great performance here as Claudius because he never let's the character fall into obscurity in the film, as Claudius very easily could have simply been forgotten behind the flamboyance of the titular character. He realizes the various facets of the role in a wonderful fashion as he never makes Claudius just the King, or just the villain, or just a guilt ridden man. Jacobi makes him all of those things into a believable whole, and by showing these different sides he makes Claudius a far more compelling character than he usually is. Jacobi makes a remarkable impact on the whole of the film refusing to ever be forgotten because he isn't the title character. Add to all that Jacobi incredible understanding and delivery of the language you have one of the best Shakespearean performances on film.


Luke Higham said...

Louis: what are your top ten Shakespearean film adaptations.

RatedRStar said...

I think unfortunately, Jacobi in my own opinion, is very good at Shakespeare, but nothing else and thats really not a good thing, people like McKellen, Olivier, Branagh could also just play normal straight forward characters, cause whenever he isnt doing Shakespeare, he just seems to play either gay people (the comedy sitcom he did with Ian McKellen was fucking hideous), or just snobbish.

It doesnt help that hardly anyone has heard of him except in name only, its very much a Terence Stamp sort of reputation he has, where he has, a veteran like respect, but nobody aside the film world really knows him unlike McKellen, Stewart, etc.

Louis Morgan said...


1. Throne of Blood
2. Hamlet (Branagh)
3. Richard III (Olivier)
4. Henry V (Olivier)
5. Henry V (Branagh)
6. Romeo and Juliet
7. Othello (Welles)
8. Hamlet (Zeffirelli)
9. Julius Caesar
10. Hamlet (Olivier)

RatedRStar: I agree he's not a particularly interesting actor when not doing Shakespeare, but at least he's great at one thing, I mean some actors might not be good at anything.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: What are your favourite aspects of Branagh's Henry V.

Matt Mustin said...

To be fair to Jacobi, he is VERY well-respected in the world of theatre.

Luke Higham said...

Matt Mustin: I agree with your statement, as well as being brilliant in I, Claudius.

Louis: lastly, I would just like to say on where would you rank Jacobi in your top ten shakespearean performances. From your review it sounds that you liked him as much, if not more than Branagh, so I'm guessing he is either 3rd or maybe even 2nd.

RatedRStar said...

=D no offence to theatre lovers, and I may come across quite villainous here but, the Tonys, and pretty much every film award show that isn't called the Oscars, just don't mean anything to anyone what so ever except the people at the ceremony, I mean, most people cant even remember the winners of the Tonys, the most memorable thing I can remember (you will love this Louis) is that Raul Julia was nominated 4 times, and he lost every time, yet the Tonys decided to award Denzel Washington, and James Corden wtf wow.... I always see theatre nowadays as being an escape, when your film career is washing away like Hugh Jackman/Tom Hanks/Denzel Washington.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: I forgot about this, but since there's never been a major film adaptation of King Lear, I would like to ask on who you would've wanted to play the title role now, as well as anyone who's now deceased. also your choice of director.

Matt Mustin said...

RatedRStar: Okay, first of all, I never once mentioned the Tonys, I simply said he was respected as a theatre actor, which he is. Second, we follow and enjoy the Oscars, but they don't really mean anything either. Third, Hugh Jackman STARTED his career in theatre. So I really don't understand why you felt the need to leave that comment at all.

JamDenTel said...

RatedRStar: I'm an active man of the theater and give the Tonys virtually no credence whatsoever. If anything, the lack of a truly authoritative theater award is one of the modern American theater's greatest hurdles.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: In regards to Branagh's Henry V the score is once again wonderful and Branagh once again brings a real epic quality in his directorial flair. He also differentiates his version well from Olivier's version by taking a grittier approach. Also Jacobi again is highlight in that film as well.

I would place Jacobi third out of my favorites.

As for King Lear for some reason I think I might like film version starring Tatsuya Nakadai and directed by Akira Kurosawa, call it hunch.

Anyway in contemporary terms I'd like to what Branagh would do with it, since at least in terms of critical consensus, I have not seen his other adaptation myself, his forte seems to be the grander plays, and I say put a carefully directed Jeremy Irons in the lead.

Michael Patison said...

Have you seen the 1980s TV Olivier King Lear adaptation? I haven't but I feel like it'd be right up your alley. I have no idea who directed. Not do I know whether it was made for TV or is simply a filmed play.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this adaptation of Hamlet and I thought Jacobi was great as well! I really liked Branagh, but to me, he is no Laurence Olivier. I'm not sure whether you answered this in your previous review, but what do you think of Winslet? Do you prefer her to Jean Simmons?

Anyway, about the whole theatre thing I respectfully disagree. The only reason why theatre isn't as recognized is because it isn't as accessible as film. Just because there isn't the fame element and the whole prestige of Oscars attached to it doesn't make it a less respectable art form. This may seem idealistic, but I truly believe that there are actors who are dedicated purely to the craft, and they act in theatre because they love acting, and not for awards and stuff. A lot of brilliant actors originated from the stage, like Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and Al Pacino, and they are always full of respect towards it because they see it as their roots. I am also more than certain that Cate Blanchett is going to return to the Sydney stage after this Oscar win of hers...she's very dedicated to that company. But, hey, that's just my opinion because I really love watching stage actors on screen. The energy, precision and characterization are usually very sharp in their performances, and you can really see how trained they are as actors.

Anonymous said...

Oh ok never mind, I saw that you gave Winslet a 4. But her, Simmons or Helena Bonham Carter?

RatedRStar said...

umm no, theatre has, and always will be second fiddle to the motion picture, and the Oscars do actually mean something, they kill or make careers, they are part of history, they are timeless, remembered for generations to come, many actors/actresses would not be remembered at all if it wasnt at all, theres only so many times you can watch a theatre play before you go, um can I have something new please, theres only so many times you can watch an Othello before you go, well I know how this ends so what's the point?.

Anonymous said...

I love how, everybody got fed up of u hating on other actors lol so now you take it out on theatre, whats next, American Football lol.

Anonymous said...

I'm the anonymous who commented about theatre. Well, it's your opinion and you're entitled to it. :D What I meant was that I've personally always had great respect for theatre actors (I love watching live productions), and some of the great ones I've watched are always able to blow me away as much as some of the greatest screen performances. It's just too bad that they cannot be recorded down by cameras, have some major studio to campaign for them or be appreciated on a worldwide scale like films. But the quality of the acting is really magnificent and breathtaking sometimes.

Anyway, like I said, it's your opinion so I'm not even going to attempt to change it for you. Can we get back to discussing about Jacobi in Hamlet?

Lezlie said...

It's almost as pointless to compare theatre and cinema as it would be to compare apples and pears. Are they similar in some ways? Sure, but still they are entirely different mediums. I agree about theatre not being as universally and internationally accessible as cinema though.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: what is your rating & thoughts on Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous: Simmons although I like all of them.

Luke: 4.5(Heresy perhaps to do so, and I do see the greatness of her performance in all of the flashback scenes. The choice scene is unforgettable. I do feel though that in the present scenes she does not seem to be exactly the same character, and her performance is not as natural as in those other scenes. Nevertheless a strong performance, even if I do not place her as highly as others)

Anonymous said...

Derek Jacobi should have been nominated or at least won a Bafta. His performance in Hamlet outshone all the rest #fact