Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sewell and Spall in the Land of Dreamy Dreams

Here’s what I forgot: Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) is about a million years long. And by a million years, I do respectfully mean 238 minutes of rawther unadorned Shakespeare. In the press notes, Ebert describes it as the first uncut film version of the bard’s “most challenging” tragedy. If I were writing elsewhere, I might wrench that quote out of context for my own nefarious purposes, but in the interest of fairness I must acknowledge Roger goes on to say many complimentary things.

Whereas I will say that the film requires an intermission, which in my allegedly humble opinion should only be required by Reds and Gone With the Wind. Suffice to say at 11:30 I cruised to the theater and still managed to catch the last 20 minutes or so — admittedly grand enough to make me wish I’d had the chance to revise my opinion after all. Afterward, actors Rufus Sewell and Timothy Spall spoke, both as charming and bright as you’d expect and smart in pinstriped trousers and boots. Why can’t American men take a page from those Brits? And yes, Rufus proves eminently crushworthy. A laundrylist of why before it leaks elsewhere, Tourettes-style.

1.He is as handsome in real life as he is stretched across a big screen. A rarity, I doth assure you. This includes: a. bedroom eyes b. long lashes not wasted on this boy c. a head proportionate to his body.
2. He laughs all the time, sometimes at his own jokes. Admittedly this quality might endear himself less to me were he less handsome or if he’d laughed less at my own high comedy, but who’s going to live their life on a conditional? Not I, says this frog.
3. He speaks in the straining, raspy voice of an earnest nine-year-old.

Okay, Sewell PSA officially over.

Both Spall and Sewell extolled the virtues of working in a production in which no part, uh, bit. “It was about the language this way,” Spall said. This surely shed new light on the tremendous “supporting” cast (everyone from Billy Crystal to Charlton Heston to Jack Lemmon) that I’d previously dismissed as distracting.

The two shared background on the production, from how the terrific snow scene was achieved (apparently a company called Snow Business actually exists!) to the coach who wrote Shakespearean-like dialogue for the extras to mutter at each other. (I want those lines! How they would spice up my subway rides: A pox on your house, o he who spreads his legs so wide I can't sit down.)

As the Q and As often go here, the conversation took an unexpected if welcome turn. Spall reminisced about his long professional and personal alliance with English director Mike Leigh. “He and I share a love of showing what’s extraordinary in the ordinary,” he said. “The delivery man in a Hollywood movie—that’s the main character in the Leigh movie.”

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