Maxine Peake as Hamlet | DVD release - Gender-bending prince makes her mark

Maxine Peake as Hamlet in HAMLET Royal Exchange Theatre.jpg
(Image credit: Jonathan Keenan)
(Image credit: Jonathan Keenan)

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet may currently be grabbing everyone’s attention at the Barbican  - apparently the fastest-selling ticket in London theatre history – but he’s not the only screen-to-stage star to make waves, and put bums on seats, playing Shakespeare’s most iconic character. In a stunning gender-bending production of Hamlet at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre last year, Maxine Peake took the title role and won great acclaim for her boyishly androgynous and strikingly blond prince.

Shown in cinemas earlier this year, director Sarah Frankcom’s modern-dress production is now available on DVD.

Star of Silk and The Village, Peake is not the first woman to play Hamlet; 18th & 19th century actresses, including Sarah Siddons in 1777, regularly performed the role, and Sarah Bernhardt was famously filmed in the part in 1899.

Peake, though, is the highest profile female Hamlet since Frances de la Tour at the Half Moon theatre in 1979.

Significantly, Peake’s fervent prince is not the only example of cross-dressing in Frankcom’s production, which balances out the gender distribution of the play’s characters. So Polonius has become ‘Polonia’ (Gillian Bevan), Marcellus is ‘Marcella’, and there is a Player Queen instead of King (Claire Benedict) and a female Rosencrantz (Jodie McNee). The gravediggers are women, too.

Maxine Peake as Hamlet is available on DVD, and and VOD and EST on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Curzon Home Cinema and Google Play.

Photo credit: Jonathan Keenan.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.