Was Richard Burton Really That Good?

So I’m watching Slings and Arrows  this week, finally, after a coworker let me borrow the DVD.  In Episode 1, a character speaks of Richard Burton’s Hamlet as the best one.  To me, growing up, Richard Burton was the guy in boring movies on Sunday afternoons after church.  The sort of movies that a 12yr old boy like myself would find crazy boring and not watch.  I know Burton’s Taming of the Shrew because I saw it in school, but that’s about it.  Never saw his Antony.  I see that he played Caliban, which intrigues me.  His Hamlet was in 1964. So, tell me.  Is it that good?  Should I seek it out?  Is it available on film?  IMDB tells me that there is a DVD release, although that doesn’t mean I’d be able to find it.

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3 thoughts on “Was Richard Burton Really That Good?

  1. It’s worth seeing, but not my favorite. The production is famous for being really stripped down, as if you are watching a rehearsal–bare set, plain clothes, random bits of furniture defining the space. It suffers from being basically a stage play on film–all the movement and the diction is calibrated for the stage, so it seems overdone and artificial on the screen. It seems like libraries often have a copy, and you may be able to find a clip or two on YouTube or elsewhere.

    If you really want to hear what Richard Burton can do, I can heartily recommend you the dramatization of Coriolanus for Caedmon in 1967, and re-released on HarperCollins AudioBooks, in which he starred–if you can find it. I have a cassette tape from 10 or 12 years ago, ISBN 0-00-104685-3. Burton gives a very powerful reading, and his highly cultured King’s English is perfectly suited to the Roman aristocrat.

    Some of the old Caedmon recordings are available on iTunes, and libraries are also a good source (although the tape quality can be variable).

  2. Burton’s Hamlet is available on NetFlix. I found it on there and watched it since I was curious…

    I can’t say I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was very much a product of its time and I had trouble getting into it. The performances seem rather stiff, distant, and presentational at times.

    Burton looked just as old as Claudius and Gertrude in this (again, a product of its time – where age appropriate casting was far from the norm). I’m not a huge fan of Burton in this role. For a good performance by him I’d look into the movie “Becket.”

    I would recommend watching it just for the sake of being able to say that you’ve seen it. And to see what was considered good onstage, as far as Shakespeare goes, in the 60s.

  3. Burton's Hamlet was directed and cast so that Richard Burton would shine. Jean Shepherd( Writer of 'A Christmas Story' and also had a radio show in NYC) saw it and said that he was not that good. That the cast around him were week compare with him. But be that as it may it is a live play quit different then a TV show or movie. In the theater you have to worry about projecting your voice to the mack of the Theater, blowing your lines,stage movement and other things and your performance has to be perfect every night. If you do something wrong there is no director out front that is going to yell cut. The first time I heard it was in 1964 on the Vinyl records it was different that when i first saw the show on the DVD. I'm a big Burton fan. The records are better than the DVD. His best acting jobs Whose Afraid of Virginia Woof, Coriolanus, Equus, Taming of the Shew. The best hamlet on DVD Christopher Plummer, and Mel Gibson. William Redfield wrote a book about the production Called ' Letters from an Actor. fascinating he was in it. All and all Burton's Hamlet is worth a spin on your DVD player

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