By Baz Bamigboye
Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch is in talks to bring his stage Hamlet to the screen. The play begins performances at the Barbican next year, and negotiations for it to be filmed live and shown in cinemas through National Theatre Live for one night are well advanced.
The actor, along with the production’s director Lyndsey Turner and producer Sonia Friedman, has spent more than a year ensuring that this will be a ‘people’s Hamlet’.
‘I felt very strongly that as wide an audience as possible should have access to it,’ Cumberbatch told me.
The Barbican’s allocation of seats for the entire 12-week run, which starts on August 5 next year, have been snapped up already.
But there will be 100 seats available per performance. ‘They will be sprinkled throughout the house . . . they’re not behind pillars,’ the 38-year-old joked.
He said that he and Ms Turner were eager to make their Hamlet as ‘fresh’ as possible, ‘like a new play that just landed as a pdf in someone’s computer inbox at the Royal Court’, as he described it.
Benedict is a thespian polymath. There’s no role he cannot take on.
We had met to discuss another of his projects: a towering portrait — one of the great performances of the year — of Alan Turing, the man who helped break the Nazi’s Enigma code, in the film The Imitation Game.
Watching the movie, I was struck by his approach to Turing: the way he grasped and captured the man, not just the cliched genius. The film is all the more heartbreaking because of it
The Imitation Game shows how the boundaries of class and status were broken by the disparate group gathered at Bletchley Park.
‘That was an incredible, rag-tag group of brave, stoic, quiet heroes,’ Cumberbatch marvelled.
‘I say rag-tag, in the sense that they were mathematicians, physicists, crossword enthusiasts . . . really anyone who had an intellect and a prowess that might help solve this puzzle.
‘Turing may have had eccentric behaviour; he may have had certain tropes of being different, but this was a whole team of “different” people, brought together in a crisis.’
The star said that Turing was guileless about his sexuality. ‘When he was arrested by the police he told them outright that he’d had a sexual relationship with another man.
‘He just gave them the information, and the sad thing was that he’d been with a rent boy. He’d never had a stable relationship’.’
However, the film does explore Turing’s close friendship with Joan Clarke, another code-breaker at Bletchley Park.
Clarke is portrayed by Keira Knightley, and she’s sensational.
Cumberbatch, who worked with her on Joe Wright’s sublime Atonement, couldn’t stop praising her.
We remarked on a particular scene where Keira’s Ms Clarke expresses the view that: ‘Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine.’
That very much sums up a movie that will be given a sneak showing at the Telluride Film Festival, which starts today high up in the mountains above Denver, Colorado.
Then it’s off to the Toronto International Film Festival and on October 8, The Imitation Game will open the BFI London Film Festival.
Meanwhile, Cumberbatch has been wearing a bodysuit covered with motion sensors to play and provide the voice of tiger Shere Khan in Andy Serkis’s film Jungle Book: Origins.
And he’s in rehearsals to play crippled Richard III in the new Hollow Crown TV drama series, which will encompass Henry VI, Parts 1 and 2, and Richard III.
He then shoots a Christmas special of Sherlock — the role which won him a best actor Emmy on Monday.
He also has plans to fit in a film or two and, after Hamlet ends next year, will film three more Sherlock episodes.