Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss

Directed by Tom Stoppard
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 0
Community: star rating
5 0 0
February 8, 1991

The word games in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead have a collegiate cheekiness. The Czech-born British playwright was only in his twenties when he wrote R&G in 1964. In making Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – two minor characters in Hamlet – the center of a play about the tricks of fate, Stoppard mixed the poetic melodrama of Shakespeare with the doom-laden minimalism of Samuel Beckett and topped it with the slapstick of the Marx Brothers.

R&G won just about every theater award and made Stoppard's reputation – further enhanced by Travesties, Jumpers and The Real Thing. The movie version that we've lucked into at last, with Stoppard in a striking directing debut, is pure pleasure. Stoppard has put a spin on the action and made textual revisions with no loss in dramatic or linguistic power.

British actors Gary Oldman (State of Grace) and Tim Roth (Vincent & Theo) are remarkably fine in the title roles as Hamlet's two old school friends. They have been called to Elsinore by the young prince's mother, Queen Gertrude (Joanna Miles), and his stepfather, King Claudius (Donald Sumpter), to learn what's making Hamlet (a superb Iain Glen) so melancholy. Though they keep picking up clues from the snatches of Shakespeare's dialogue incorporated in the play, the bewildered pair never can deduce the full import of what's going on. Coming up in back of Polonius (Ian Richardson), who is eavesdropping behind the curtain in Gertrude's bedchamber, the two scare the old man, unintentionally causing his death. Stoppard delights in such knavish tinkering with the classics. The film is extravagantly, mercilessly funny – never more so than in the rapid-fire verbal tennis match between the two protagonists.

But unlike Hamlet or Shakespeare, Stoppard shows sympathy for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Even after a group of traveling actors led by the Player – an incisively overripe Richard Dreyfuss – puts on a show that foreshadows their eventual death by hanging, the pair remain incapable of helping themselves. "Wheels have been set in motion, and they have their own pace, to which we are condemned," says Roth's Guildenstern, who fancies himself the smarter of the two. Oldman, who plays Rosencrantz with a clown's grace and a tragedian's passion, is never more touching than when searching his mind for a crucial thought. "Whatever became of the moment," he asks, "when one first knew about death?" In this thrilling one-of-a-kind film, Stoppard revivifies an art rusting unused in movies: bringing words to life.

Movie Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    • Child of God
      star rating
      Well Go USA Entertainment
    • lucy
      star rating
      Universal Pictures
    • star rating
      IFC Films
    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “Madame George”

    Van Morrison | 1968

    One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

    More Song Stories entries »