I confess that when I first viewed this DVD, seeing perhaps the first two scenes before falling asleep, I was not especially impressed, because Tennant's initial surly Hamlet seemed to be just a petulant kid in comparison to the likes of Branagh, Burton, and Olivier. But that's the point, and that's the genius of this production. Here, we finally have an actor who can convincingly look and act the age of Hamlet, who has barely reached the age of 21 and still a college student. After he meets the spirit on the battlements, Tennant reaches his stride. In fact, the scene where he meets the specter of his father (played by Patrick Steward, who also plays his uncle) is done for the first time in such a way as we understand the charge given by the specter to Hamlet.
This is a benefit of the fact that I believe this production has almost every word Shakespeare wrote. The full Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern subplot is here, and we get the fullest sense of the air that all of the Danish royal family have become unstuck from reality, and time and space are not what they should be. It is hard to pinpoint exactly where Hamlet's make believe madness turns into real madness. It may be when he kills Polonius, and thinks little of it, while acting entirely inappropriately towards his mother. The clue there is that is when he first breaks a mirror.
The modern (or at least early 20th century) setting does not put off one bit. In fact, one of the few inventive pieces of business which take advantage of this is that Hamlet kills Polonius with a revolver rather than with a sword or dagger. His sword is also replaced by a rather lethal looking switch blade.
Aside from Tennant and Stewart, there are no famous names and faces in the cast; however, all carry their parts quite well. One of the delights, as usual, is the business carried out by the visiting troupe of actors. Unlike some productions, the pantomime scene is included, before the full "Murder of Gonzago" is presented with Hamlet's added speech. Two scenes which seem to come off with less force is the gravedigger scene and the final fencing scene. Other productions have had brilliant comedians play the gravedigger. This actor was merely competent (although the business with which it was done had some very droll touches. I must note that Mariah Gale did an interpretation which is totally different from the frail, dutiful daughter done by Jean Simmons in Olivier's production or the freer and more limber Kate Winslet in Branagh's production. One might almost consider her a tom boy.
The director, Gregory Doran earned his pay with this production. The sense of something being rotten in Denmark starts early and builds to the famous murderous climax.
The setting is perfect as a modern royal castle of a smaller royal family. It has none of the over the top expanse of Branagh and the gloomy ill lit damp rooms by Olivier.