The Motive and the Cue of Richard Burton’s Hamlet

Mark my words: The Motive and the Cue the play today in London, directed by Sam Mendes, is still going to become a movie. The proposal is to revisit the backstage of the production of Hamlet, in 1964, when the legendary actor John Gielgud directed Richard Burton in a production on Broadway. At the time, Burton was at the height of his passion for Elizabeth Taylor, so much so that they were married (for the first time) during the production of the play. Naturally, the turmoil of the star’s production and personal life would make for fascinating content, and author Jack Thorne‘s text captures all of that and more.

Throne took two books as the support of the play, Letters from an Actor, by William Redfield and John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet, by Richard L. Stern, based on the premise of questioning the motivation of the most famous actor in the world (at the time) to decide to make a such a well-known play and a role he had successfully played 10 years earlier.

The 1964 montage was experimental, signed by the most revered actor by all precisely in the role of Hamlet and the two things would challenge Burton at any time. And two stars together are destined for conflict, even more so with the world fever that was at its peak precisely because of Burton’s romance with Taylor. It was the Dickenliz, the preview of Brangelina. For Thorne and Mendes, The Motive and the Cue is a perfect vehicle to discuss the relationship between art and celebrity precisely for that reason.

Among the most praised in the production of the play is the actor Johnny Flynn as Burton, a performance that he will certainly repeat on Broadway (and, I warn you, in the movies). Mark Gatiss is John Gielgud and Tuppence Middleton lives the unforgettable Elizabeth Taylor. Johnny, who was great in Emma, is now one of the most acclaimed actors in acting and is equal to Burton.

Hamlet premiered in 1964, and for many years was the longest-running and most profitable New York production of the play. On opening night, Richard Burton received six curtain calls and Elizabeth Taylor was in the audience, in fact, they watched all the presentations, causing commotion at the entrance, exit, and even backstage. The season had all the nightly sell-out performances, which officially got married when Hamlet was still running.

Richard Burton‘s performance, which was already legendary before, became study material with the season of Hamlet in 1964, which naturally provoked jealousy in John Gieguld, the actor of the actors and considered the best of all in the role. But Richard, who was already a terrible drinker by that time, managed to innovate every night, never making the same Prince of Denmark two nights in a row. One night, he delivered the “to be or not to be” monologue in German because he wanted to impress the German authorities who were looking into adopting his daughter with Elizabeth. I would be irritated if the star switched to speaking in a foreign language because he was bored or fawning over someone, but that’s ok, that’s the story.

You can see the complete 1964 montage (below).


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