Let's see, in roughly chronological order:
Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer (radio), John Gielgud (radio), a clever sixth-former at my old school, Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, Ethan Hawke, Mel Gibson (I can't be sure), Maxine Peake and, last Saturday, Benedict Cumberbatch. There may be others because I've always grabbed the chance and now regret refusing, laughingly, to book a well-regarded version in Russian at the British Film Institute. I'd see it now in a flash if I had the opportunity; perhaps there's a DVD,
Hamlet, of course, for what else could withstand so much repetition? Only music, and both Cosi and Figaro must be creeping up to parity with the crazy Dane.
Poncy, you say. Showing off. Well then, what's new? You've always known I'm a ponce and a show-off. TD has lost readers because of it.
The best Hamlet? The radio versions, both four hours, followed by Kenneth Branagh, also full. Train schedules and baby-sitters mean we rarely see the full play. And that’s a shame. To qualify for "the best" Hamlet must, first and foremost, be complete. It wasn't written to be cut. Hamlet himself explains:
The play's the thing.
I don’t know it word for word nor can I resolve its contradictions. I often dwell on what I haven't seen. Cumberbatch passes through a Polish army camp (referring to the soldiers as Polacks) and I wondered whether I'd previously seen that.
Polonius is often the litmus paper. Sometimes he’s dismissed as a fussy bumbler but it’s only familiarity that makes us slide over:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
It’s not even wholly true. But Hamlet’s a play not an encyclopedia and the lines stick.