Review of Grand Theft Hamlet

Grand Theft Hamlet
Grand Theft Hamlet
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This documentary about a performance of the Shakespeare tragedy staged entirely within Grand Theft Auto Online made me cry towards the end. It is not because it is so refined and moving as well. Maybe Grand Theft Hamlet might be touted as an unlikely tale of renegade players who’ve turned Rockstar’s felonious virtual world into a make-believe player’s haven, but it also underscores how the COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed industries and lives as well. But it also shows how video games became one of the only ways to emulate social engagements at the height of the COVID lockdown.

Mine was Call of Duty: Warzone on PlayStation. Sam Crane and his good friend Mark Oosterveen, another actor out-of-job like him, hid in GTA’s massively multiplayer online world. Those mindsets, paranoias, and bouts of sadness that are discussed in Grand Theft Hamlet were like re-living traumas I still can’t face. Although that starts on such a somber note, I use this story to illustrate the power of documentary filmmaking—or rather effective or accomplished documentaries. When I went to “The Shakespearean GTA Movie,” all I expected were laughs and unbelievable feats from animated pixels. Instead, I was taken back to that period in time when time seemed stopped around the world, socialization switched to online platforms and computer games became a savior for many.

The UK’s third lockdown from January 2021 marked the beginning of Sam and Mark’s incredible journey. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’s London production had cast Sam before Covid struck; changing his life forever through this role. Pinny Grylls – his wife and co-director at Grand Theft Hamlet – hailed from an ambitious career path in filmmaking documentaries. As always before COVID-19 hit, Mark was enjoying his multifaceted stage television film career schedule without any disruptions. All three Londoners seemed the brightest of optimists, radiating positivity into tomorrow – however, this was put to an abrupt stop by Covid-19. Sam and Mark’s then 12-year-old son started talking about some Minecraft Youtuber who created stories within the game through fiction, which led them to their final idea and Pinny’s filming of a unique goal.

The idea that they can convince Grand Theft Auto players to do anything not involving robbery or killing is hilarious; Grand Theft Hamlet captures it in all its cartoonishly violent glory. Several test runs are interrupted by monstrous players with rocket launchers and/or NPC cops blasting bullets at actors giving out gloomy monologues. Los Santos itself nurtures antisocial behavior that Sam and Mark cannot pause or avoid hence they learn how to circumnavigate such setbacks like respawns, accidental blimp crashes, and intruders. The outcome is as excitingly messy, and arbitrary as you could think of; this sums up what may be the most entertaining moment within a film: a sympathetic player called “ParTeb” who doesn’t want any part in acting but offers to perform security though himself. Let us just have ParTeb fighting over Sam and Mark’s rehearsals on a fighter jet dropping bullets on anyone approaching them.

It is true that every production needs actors and this particular process of casting only Hamlet in GTA makes auditions occur over usually crappy console headsets. Sam and Mark try to make friends with random players in the game, but things don’t go so well. Their mistakes are hilarious; however, hopeful participants appear after Pinny records a virtual casting call using his character’s POV for cinematography. It starts to make sense why anyone would audition for Hamlet through this medium, and the film becomes more communal.

When avatars serve as the audience there is no stage fright; thus any voice will do since its audio quality quality is not good; as such it gives shy boys like Gareth aka “Turkomas” who confessed about being limited by his face from radio and his voice from mime space to come and audition. People can now follow their dream of becoming an actor through this form of auditioning as it has fewer risks than ever before. The production even goes further by bringing in some pros like Jen Cohn, who provided her voice for Pharah in Overwatch. An underlying theme throughout Grand Theft Hamlet is the terrible isolation many people went through during lockdown, also boredom or restlessness – yet for a short while Sam and Mark’s project takes everyone away from a spreading culture of staying at home.

When looking at various dramatic angles within Grand Theft Hamlet, some heartfelt speeches were interrupted by microphone noises while characters did not adequately express their emotions through avatars’ bodies. There was something weird about those blue-haired, skeleton-clothed digi-Sams standing straight while Pinny admits she feels miserable because Sam prioritizes video games over life itself – nonetheless, these two avatars fail to evoke empathy between them. Dipo speaks to Sam and Mark at the Los Santos subway station where they have met him accidentally; he says that he got a job because COVID measures relaxed which means he cannot perform as Hamlet anymore. The part in which Dipo cuts his apology to Sam abruptly short because he becomes carried away by transportation mechanics is trying too hard, but it is a different matter entirely with the digital tools that are at their disposal.

The only thing that Mark says about Grand Theft Hamlet which goes beyond GTA’s digital walls confirms that he will be alone for the duration of the pandemic as Grand Theft Hamlet is all he has. No kin and no flatmate. That’s how this documentary shifts from being a video game fandom curiosity into an ultimate guide on lockdown experiences and ways people from different walks of life perceived COVID-19 seclusion. The heartbeats of Charli XCX: Alone Together were felt simultaneously with those of Grand Theft Hamlet, two documentaries about particular communities who decided to come together to support each other during quarantine. Another British doc called Alien on Stage can also be compared to Grand Theft Hamlet; in it amateur performers also dreamed about putting up a small show for everyone else. It tells more than Pinny’s experience of documenting the logistical insanity; it has vulnerabilities and an inspiring story; it finds hope even in dystopian, unrestrained video game worlds.


Grand Theft Hamlet is not merely a documentary about logistical madness, alien avatars hump-thrust- emoting randomly and virtual violence inanity. Sam and Mark were two visionaries who yearned for a creative outlet and saw untapped potential; hence they have an outrageous tale of blind ambition. Where many ask “Should we?,” these two maniacs thought, “How can we?” This didn’t cover up the magic in Pinny’s behind-the-scenes account of every mad detail from Vinewood location scouting to crowd control that was left out by Grand Theft Hamlet because it still had some human elements in it. This irreplaceable experience speaks volumes about going after one’s dreams no matter what life throws at you. The reward will always be worth it even if it’s just about the mates you’ve made and NPC cops you’ve slaughtered along the way.

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