Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

Written and directed by the noted playwright Tom Stoppard, this 1990 movie stars Gary Oldman and Tim Roth.

Release Date:


Country: USA

Language: English

Written and directed by the noted playwright Tom Stoppard, this 1990 movie stars Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. And as far as I’m concerned that’s good enough to make me want to see it! The plot is based on the lives of these two characters, bit players from Shakespeare’s famous “Hamlet”, rarely seen in the original work. This play, Stoppard’s first, coincidentally, brings them to life in a meaningful way, though they remain blissfully unaware of the events happening around them. It’s a clever idea, instead of a play within a play, it’s more of a play outside a play. If you get my drift.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

We first encounter our heroes en route to Elsinore at the behest of the King. Rosencrantz, played by Oldman is confused about their place in the world, frequently making decisions based upon the toss of a coin. Guildenstern is similarly confused but more angry than anything else leading to some brilliant comic banter between them. The movie gets a little metaphysical when they encounter a band of travelling players, led by veteran American actor Richard Dreyfuss who gives them lessons on dramatic structure of all things, before the pair ore relocated to Elsinore itself, there to stay always on the periphery of the action.

It doesn’t end well for them, as they end up hanged but despite such a dark ending, this is a really funny and very engaging movie. Oldman and Roth are perfectly cast and play off each other exceptionally well, with Oldman particularly funny as the indecisive Rosencrantz (or is that Guildenstern? Sometimes not even they can tell!) Neither are in control of their lives, being summarily moved from place to place as the story demands it and we share their sense that everything is beyond them.

The guest cast is remarkable, with Ian Richardson as the fawning timewaster Polonius, Iain Glen doing a turn as Hamlet and a great piece of acting from Donald Sumpter as Claudius, the scheming king. It’s a clever and witty movie with some fantastic cinematography, Stoppard proving that he can direct as well as write and is very much worth a viewing, if only for the sight of Oldman and Roth at the top of their game.


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