Turkish Series ‘Hamlet’ Recasts Tragedy for the Modern Equine Empire

Kaan Müjdeci’s “Hamlet” reskins Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy in a modern retelling of family betrayal and horse carriages. When Kedir Kesmeci murders his brother in secret, his niece Hazar must find the courage to expose him. Indeed her sorrows “come not single spies,” and there on the island of Büyükada, off the coast of Istanbul, she must defeat an uncle who is little more than kin, and less than kind.

Debuting at Series Mania, “Hamlet” is director Müjdeci’s first drama series. He won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival with his debut feature film “Sivas” in 2014.

Variety spoke with Müjdeci ahead of “Hamlet” screening at Series Mania.

What inspired you to retell the story of Hamlet in the context of modern Turkey?

The reason I chose Hamlet is that it has a simpler dramaturgy out of all the Shakespeare plays. It also has the least amount of didactic narration. I’m a big fan of Shakespeare, that’s why I wanted to retell this specific story. During the pandemic I moved to Büyükada, one of the Prince’s Islands off the shores of Istanbul. The horse carriages and their owners are like an empire there, and last year I witnessed this so-called “empire” collapse due to the political changes that were going on in Istanbul and around the country. This situation also represents so many things in Turkey. I thought Hamlet’s story, which has the same patterns as what was going on on Büyükada, suited best into this reality.

How did horses come to play such an important part in this series, both as a story element and as a motif?

When I was reimagining Shakespeare’s work, I was always aware that he’d written it in another time. It’s now 2021. But 400 years ago, mankind had a different relationship with nature. People weren’t causing damage to nature like they are now. Today, this relationship is even more different. When retelling Shakespeare’s story today, you can’t just examine people’s conscience, their relationship with good, evil, animals and nature separately. Therefore I didn’t find it right to question this story and not include animals and nature as a theme. I chose horses and many other animals to put the story on the right track.

In “Hamlet” the cinematography creates a brooding mood which deepens the tension and mystery. Can you speak to some of your visual choices for the series?

“Hamlet” is exactly this type of a story where we dive into the layers of human nature and the way people question themselves. And while I was investigating this questioning, I didn’t see another way to execute this story. When watched as a whole, we can see that the series goes from light to dark, and then dark to light again in layers. And we see the animals watching this transition. So we are actually watching the animals watching people and vice versa. Visually, there are a lot of scenes with people in front and an animal in the back, or an animal in front and someone in the background. These types of depths can be found in the story of Hamlet as well.

Actress Elit İşcan plays the traditionally male role of the protagonist in ‘Hamlet.’ What made you want to flip the gender for this adaptation?

I actually don’t see Hamlet as a man. And in the series, Hamlet is basically genderless. I believe the reason why he was a prince must have something to do with the climate of the era it was written in. To reflect on that in this structure, I divided Hamlet into three characters. Main reason for this was, there were some things a 19 year-old girl wouldn’t be able to say. Maybe a prince would be able to say them 400 years ago, but in today’s world, a daughter of a horse carriage man couldn’t have said them. That’s why, in addition to Elit’s character, I added a mysterious, 85 year-old character as part of Hamlet, to be able to show that this character in fact had experience and was superior to the things happening around her. As the third Hamlet, I did need to reflect on the masculine aspects of Hamlet even for a little bit, so I added Nuh. And essentially, I wanted to present Hamlet as a combination of these three characters.


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