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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a 1990 film written and directed by Tom Stoppard based on his play of the same name. Like the play, the film depicts two minor characters from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who find themselves on the road to Elsinore Castlemarker at the behest of the King of Denmark. They encounter a band of players before arriving to find that they are needed to try to discern what troubles the prince Hamlet. Meanwhile, they ponder the meaning of their existence.

The film stars Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz and Tim Roth as Guildenstern, although a running theme throughout has many characters, themselves included, uncertain as to which is which. It also features Richard Dreyfuss as the leading player, Iain Glen as Prince Hamlet, Joanna Miles as Gertrude and Donald Sumpter as King Claudius. The film was shot in various locations around Yugoslaviamarker. This was Stoppard's debut as a film director, and to date it remains his only film directorial credit.


Guildenstern, observant, sharp-witted and gifted for word-puns, and his mate Rosencrantz, slower and often caught in words, even switching their own names, make a long journey on horseback, contemplating fate, memory and language while their flipping of coins produces heads over a hundred times in a row. Then they meet a traveling theater troupe, which offers for a few coins to let them watch a play, participate as guest actor or in a 'private rape enactment'. Then the magic of the theater transports them to the grand palace Elsinore, where the hospitable Danish royal couple kindly asks them to stay a while and help find out and hopefully cure the gloomy, confused state of prince Hamlet, whose Shakespearean drama the court is living through, yet the title heroes remain largely occupied with the futile hazards of daily life. Soon the very same theater troupe arrives to play at court, as part of the Bard's tragedy, whose leader simultaneously forbids them to stop watching their real play on the road which can't exist without an audience and explains some of the plot and logic of conventional rules of plot-staging and -writing, till their own real fate is settled.



The play contains a series of amusing missed discoveries of physical principles, at least in the uncut film version. Examples include where Rosencrantz plays with a series of clay jugs hung from the ceiling and discovers that bouncing the end jug into the next one causes the jug at the opposite end to bounce (just as in the "executive toy" (Newton's Cradle) consisting of silver-colored ball bearings suspended by nylon threads). But when he demonstrates this intriguing device to Guildenstern, he draws the end jug back too far and it merely breaks, spilling its contents. Other examples include almost discovering the ancient Greek principle of steam power (the Hero or Heronas archetype of steam blowing against a pinwheel), a scientific experiment in which a ball falls far more quickly than a feather, almost discovering one or more of the laws of gravity when one character is accidentally hit on the head by a falling apple (erroneously supposed to have happened to Newton when a child), and almost having a Eureka moment in the bath when one character notices that a toy boat moves up when he displaces water in the tub. (Instead, he is distracted by the naked backside of a woman, which turns out to be that of a man.)


Critical reaction for the film tended towards the positive, with an overall rating of 69% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. A common criticism in negative reviews was that the material is more suited to the stage than to the screen; examples include Vincent Canby's review, in which he says, "[Stoppard] delights in sounds and meanings, in puns, in flights of words that soar and swoop as if in visual display. On the stage, this sort of thing can be great fun… In the more realistic medium of film, so many words can numb the eardrums and weigh upon the eyelids like old coins. This is the effect of 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead . Similarly, Roger Ebert states that "the problem is that this material was never meant to be a film, and can hardly work as a film."

The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival as well as the Fantasporto Directors' Week Award. For his work in the film, Gary Oldman was nominated for the 1991 Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead.


The film was released on DVD in the UK in 2003, and in the US in 2005, featuring interviews with Oldman, Roth, Dreyfuss and Stoppard.


  • The pieces of paper blowing around in the movie, including the scrap with which Rosencrantz makes a paper airplane, are actually the script of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Of course, the title duo never notice this.
  • The opening song at the beginning of the movie is Pink Floyd's "Seamus" (Meddle, 1971). Technicality: The film's version of the song is "Mademoiselle Nobs" sans vocals.
  • The "ping" noise heard during the bathhouse scene is taken from the Pink Floyd song, "Echoes", also from Meddle.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead is a 2009 American independent film written and directed by Jordan Galland. The film's title refers to a fictitious play-within-the-movie, which is a comic reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and its aftermath.


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