Marking his debut as director, playwright Tom Stoppard takes two marginal characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and places them at the center of a comedy-drama, while the major characters of the play – Hamlet, Ophelia, Claudius and the rest – are only part of the background.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are never certain about what’s going on in Elsinore. They overhear crucial conversations and encounters, they talk briefly to the King and to Hamlet, and, in the end, they accompany Hamlet on a voyage to England, but they’re never a part of the central drama. NP>Stoppard’s 1967 play has been seen as a mixture of Samuel Beckett and Shakespeare, but on film, he adds cinematic references so that the two protagonists, with their endless word games, come across as a mixture of Abbott & Costello (the ‘Who’s On First’ routine) and Laurel and Hardy (with the clumsy Rosencrantz forever annoying and frustrating the superior Guildenstern). There’s also a touch of Monty Python in the zaniness of the characters and their verbal and visual antics.
Gary Oldman and Tim Roth are splendid in their roles. Oldman plays his character as a shrewd simpleton, and Roth plays his as a man who thinks he’s clever, but really isn’t. Also giving a formidable performance is Richard Dreyfuss as the leader of a band of strolling players.