Grand Theft Hamlet Documents the Strangest Shakespeare Adaptation of All Time

Games,Movies
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This article appears in the SXSW 2024 issue of Den of Geek magazine. Check out all of our SXSW coverage here.

Grand Theft Hamlet is about as absurd a mash-up as its title would have you believe. It’s a documentary about Sam Crane and Mark Oosterveen, two actors left jobless at the height of the pandemic who decide to put on a live-streamed production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Grand Theft Auto Online

Partway through the film, which was shot entirely in-game, as Sam is rehearsing the play’s famous “To be or not to be” speech on the beaches of Los Santos, a masked player walks up and calls him a bitch over chat, utterly unmoved by the iconic soliloquy. Other rehearsals are interrupted by helicopters and shootouts, all fitting encapsulations of the stark juxtaposition at the heart of the documentary. But GTA and Shakespeare may not be as thematically disparate as one might think.

“In some ways, we’re returning to the origins of Shakespeare,” says Pinny Grylls, Sam’s wife and co-director and cinematographer for the film. “When Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, the audience would throw apples if it was shit!”

“There would be fights in the crowd, there were prostitutes… it was really quite dirty, the opposite of high culture,” Sam adds. “That’s exactly the world of GTA Online.”

The film sees Sam and Mark scour Los Santos to find players willing to help with the production while struggling with real-life issues at home during the UK’s third lockdown. Sam and Pinny have two children to raise and find themselves spending an inordinate amount of time online, and when their lead actor lands a new job and bows out, they’re forced to make a last-minute pivot that changes everything.

It’s a chaotic journey full of obstacles and setbacks (the existential underpinnings of “To be or not to be” ring truer and truer as the film unfolds). But Sam and Mark’s commitment to presenting Shakespeare with sincerity and integrity holds strong amid the mayhem, and the tight bond they forge with their cast of nervous first-time actors is the beating heart of the film. With all odds against them, the motley crew manages to create one of the most bizarrely wholesome moments in modern gaming history.

“Rockstar knows about what we’re doing, and they’re really excited about it,” Pinny shares. “They didn’t really understand what we were doing at first, but then they saw the film, and they loved it.”

Sam and Pinny can hardly wait until the arrival of Grand Theft Auto VI in 2025, though when asked if they would welcome support features for performance artists like themselves in the game’s online incarnation, they’re surprisingly disinclined.

“The limitations we were faced with brought out our creativity,” Sam explains. “You wouldn’t want it to be too easy.”

Grand Theft Hamlet screens at SXSW 2024 from March 10. Check out the full schedule of screenings here. And make sure to watch out for these other documentaries while at the festival:

Dickweed

Could this be the most intriguing-sounding doc in the whole lineup? Or is that because, in true doco-thriller style, Dickweed is keeping its cards close to its chest. Or, indeed, its dick, if you will. The logline reads, “Two people got kidnapped. One man lost his dick. No one got any money. This heist-gone-horribly-wrong led one Newport Beach detective on an international manhunt for the most twisted criminal he’s ever hunted.” And that’s all you get as a tease for this film from Jonathan Ignatius Green, who was an executive producer on SXSW hit doc The Pez Outlaw.

She Looks Like Me

This amazing true story follows Jen Bricker, born without legs and abandoned by her parents as a baby. Jen idolizes American gymnast Dominique Moceanu, one of the “magnificent seven” team who won gold at the 1996 Olympics, who also helped expose the Larry Nassar abuse scandal (she appears in Erin Lee Carr’s excellent doc At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal). Jen herself goes on to become an acrobat and motivational speaker. But, it turns out she and Moceanu have more in common than it first appears…

MoviePass, MovieCrash

How does a movie ticket subscription service, which at its height had over three million members paying under $10 a month, really manage to be profitable? The answer is, of course, it doesn’t. But why did outside investors come in and lead to the implosion of a formerly successful business, and how did it all come about? This documentary from Cassius X: Becoming Ali director Muta’Ali Muhammad, with Mark Wahlberg on board as one of the producers, explores the rise and bizarre crash of the subscription app.

Preconceived

Crisis Pregnancy Centers are pervasive across America, outnumbering abortion clinics threefold. But exactly what they are and who they serve is more of a gray area, pushing a pro-life agenda and coming under accusations of spreading misinformation. Centered around the stories of two young women with unwanted pregnancies, this timely documentary explores the murky background of CPCs, focusing on faith, finance, and deception.

The post Grand Theft Hamlet Documents the Strangest Shakespeare Adaptation of All Time appeared first on Den of Geek.

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