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Hamlet/Horatio Review- A Dreamy, Emotional Twist On The Classic Ghost Story

Hamlet/Horatio is a labor of love about love. The famous Shakespearean ghost story is anchored by incredibly committed performances and careful adherence to the source material.

It’s been done many times but never quite like this. The closest to this new angle could be seen in Hamlet 2000, starring Ethan Hawke as the title character. That Hamlet 2000 version, as it is often referred, uses the filmmaker angle, but it is Hamlet who is the head of a production company struggling with the death of his father. Hamlet/Horatio isn’t wholly true to every word like the unabridged 1996 version, either. That adaptation was excellent but lasted four hours. The Shakespearean story is a classic for a reason. The themes of power, infidelity, deception, and love are relatable regardless of the era. Shakespeare’s famous ghost story is so much more than a supernatural chiller. Paul Warner and David Vando’s Hamlet/Horatio focuses on the relationship between two men, Hamlet and Horatio, and Horatio’s enduring quest to tell Hamlet’s story.

There is an ethereal dream-like quality to everything that makes for a bizarre but strangely hypnotic viewing. Like the story itself, so much of the cautionary tale is murky. The film opens and closes with a director emotionally filming what presents as a stage play. The powerful and emotional ending snaps everything into focus. We have been watching both the classic story with Themo Melikidze playing Horatio and another level within the original of a friend keeping his promise. Horatio breaks the fourth wall numerous times, weaving his narrative with Hamlet’s. The staging, costuming, and blocking are window dressing on the passionate story. Horatio’s voice is so often underheard. He is the stand-in for every man. Horatio is also what Hamlet should be. He is strong and intelligent without being conceited and isn’t motivated by ambition. Both Melikidze and Hamlet actor Andrew Burdette are fantastic.

The two light up near each other literally and figuratively. Beautiful lighting and soft-focused camera work highlight the friend’s interactions. The fresh spin on the relationship shows how vital the relationship was. If it had been more formative early, Hamlet could have made different choices and would still be alive. The new angle is captivating to watch for any fan of the treacherous tale. This is a story about vengeance and power but with an eye towards devotion and love instead of corruption.

Although this adaptation is unique, all the major plot points are still there. The “To be, or not to be” speech, Ophelias’s deaths, and the Mousetrap play all still make an appearance, but they are lovingly captured by a man grieving for his friend and committed to bringing truth to the disaster.

As a fan of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I understand his words sometimes struggle to be accessible to a broader audience. Warner captures the melodic beauty of Shakespeare’s words. There is an artful simplicity to the blocking, set design, and costuming choices in Hamlet/Horatio that breathe fresh life into the revered structure. It feels like a stage play, only somehow more. Subtle cues convey a deeper meaning that transcends the tragedy. Cinematographer Hernan Toro perfectly captures the misty balance of political and romantic intrigue, doom, and love. There is a sweetness to Warner and Vando’s vision not often found in these adaptations that allow some of the more subtle themes to emerge.

Like J.A. Nelson’s historical novel A Man Of Honor, Horatio’s story is a universal tale. In Nelson’s novel, Horatio struggles with how to fulfill Hamlet’s dying wish. Rather than setting Horatio free or acting as a warning to others about the danger of hubris and vengeance, he finds himself caught up in the same sort of betrayal. There are threads of those same ideas here. Terrible decisions extend down to everyone, even tangentially involved. That moody and poignant view of the story leaves the viewer feeling oddly emotional. Whether you are a fan of the classic or new to the story, Hamlet/Horatio is a well-designed film that clearly came from faithful souls.

Hamlet/Horatio is available everywhere VOD June 1st, 2021.