having finally finished in treatment season 3, and with the uncertainty of there being a season 4, i was craving for more of the greatness that is gabriel byrne. turns out it’s not that easy to find a movie in which he has a starring role. and with my self-imposed rule of only writing about movies that i haven’t seen before, and movies that are not wildly popular, the keep, siesta, miller’s crossing, the usual suspects, the end of violence, enemy of the state, and end of days are out. of all the available potentials, royal deceit looks the most interesting to me.
by the way, there’s a tv branch of our blog on tumblr, there is a link to it on the right. just click on the picture with the matrix tv screens.
despite the title, it’s not a b action movie from the 80s, nor a british political thriller. though one might think so upon seeing the cast list. in addition to byrne, there’s christian bale, helen mirren, brian cox, kate beckinsale, tom wilkinson, ewen bremner and the screen debut of andy serkis. it’s a pretty impressive roster of british actors. best of all, they don’t have to do any magic or cast any spells in the movie.
the batman plays amled, whose father was killed by his uncle fenge (byrne), except amled seems to be the only one who knows that. fenge is then crowned the king while amled looks to be insane. though fenge is not quite sure that amled is actually insane or pretending to be, he decides to send amled away to a friend aethelwine (cox) who will get rid of amled for him. of course amled has a plan of his own.
if the story sounds familiar, it’s because royal deceit (originally titled prince of jutland) is kind of a version of halmet. it’s actually based on the original danish legend that inspired shakespeare’s play. i had no idea that shakespeare’s halmet is actually a remake (yes i have an english degree). he probably had a bigger budget and his audience probably complained that the original was better, and say things like “shakespeare is running out of ideas” or “there is no originality in theatres anymore.”
and he did kind of dumb it down and make it more relatable to 17th century audience. based on the movie, we don’t see amled’s father’s ghost at all. there is a love interest but nothing dramatic as ophelia. there is also no comic relief as amled’s friends (rosencrantz and guildenstern). one thing i like in this version is that amled is not moping around wishy-washy indecisive emo rich kid. he seems to have a plan right from the start and carries it out when opportunity arises.
but the movie itself isn’t very interesting. it’s obvious that they didn’t have a lot of money. even with its all star cast, who were not stars at the time, it looks like a tv movie at best. it looks like one of those non-movie movies that they show in high school english classes.
it starts out pretty dour once you recognize the hamlet connection and yet they have no choice but to follow through with the exposition, but once amled is sent to be killed things start to look up. his schemes are actually pretty cool. i also like amled and aethelwine working together to defeat enemies. amled, of course, falls in love with aethelwine’s daughter. with all these elements, and the goal of avenging his father’s death, there are a lot of similarities to the d-t-v b grade action movies i usually watch. the climax of the movie even takes place in a barn that is burning, with a face off between amled and fenge.
another interesting thing is that there are more nudity than violence in the movie, which is kind of the reverse of what we are used to in movies. though there are quite a few battle scenes, most of them seem to happen off screen. instead, we get a scene of amled’s mother (mirren) and her female friends naked in a steam bath, and amled has a post coital scene with a random farm girl. it may be a budgetary concern but i think it’s healthier for a society to accept nudity rather than violence. the film’s director is danish gabriel axel, who also directed babette’s feast.
the movie is overall rather bland and not quite engaging. it may be of some interest in shakespeare and hamlet fanatics. it’s worth watching in that it’s the only movie based on the original danish legend. there is of course, the cast, which makes it retrospectively worth seeing. bale’s amled looks like a grunge extra from my so called life. byrne didn’t look old enough and his claudius lacks gravitas. helen mirren looks worried and gets naked. brian cox as aethelwine is more or less the brian cox we now know and love. beckinsale looks more like the “plain” girl in high school comedies before she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down. though i do like that the movie makes both byrne and bale make animal sounds.
bought by miramax but went direct to video, probably before they found the highway to the oscar zone with any movie that has anything to do with british history or british actors. there are rumors that there is a longer version of this movie, which sounds just about right when it comes to miramax buying foreign films. it would also explain the awkward voice over narration. two years after this kenneth branagh released his own supposedly most faithful version of hamlet. miramax released a pretty interesting/overlooked modern version of hamlet starring ethan hawke and directed by michael almereyda. that’s the version with bill murray playing polonius and hamlet gives the to be or not to be speech in the action section of a blockbuster video store.