Hamilton

Withdraw your slur, Burr, Sir!
Verdict: 
9/10 - For those who haven’t seen it, Hamilton lives up to the hype. For those who have, reliving its brilliance is a perfect lockdown treat.
Release Date: 
Friday, July 3, 2020
Written by: 

Lin-Manuel Miranda's smash hit musical about America's most colourful founding father comes to Disney+.

9

When Disney and Lin-Manuel Miranda first announced they were releasing a filmed version of his stage musical phenomenon Hamilton, the intention was clearly for fans to see it on the big screen.

Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has put paid to what would have been a fascinating experiment in bringing theatre to the masses - and Miranda's hip-hop and R&B retelling of the life of U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton instead debuts on the Disney+ streaming platform.

Therefore, there's a poignancy in the film's socially distanced video call introduction, in which Miranda and director Thomas Kail address the pandemic and recent protests against racism in the U.S.

In any other film it might jar, but when we are thrust into Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre to watch the musical itself, the themes of America's own troublesome relationship with its past and race follow perfectly.

Of course, had Hamilton been merely an American civics and history class, it would not have been such a hit.

And it's Miranda's blending of quick-thinking hip-hop, R&B and traditional musical style standards that immediately steal scenes from the off - from opening number "Alexander Hamilton" - which sets out the story of its hero's (Miranda himself) remarkable rise from illegitimacy to his place as America's first Treasury Secretary - through to the revolutionary ambitions of "My Shot", the lovelorn "Helpless" and "Satisfied", and rap battle debates on what will become of America's future.

 

Kail's direction, while necessarily minimalist, keeps the energy and wit of the stage - positioning us perfectly to see each performer revel in their roles.

He allows us to see Miranda's face contort through all of Hamilton's agonising - be it over his initial sidelining by George Washington (Christopher Jackson) in the war against the British or later self-inflicted woes.

We also get to see all of King George's (Jonathan Groff) gurning petulance, Lafayette's (Daveed Diggs) quick French wit, or Hamilton's rival Aaron Burr's (Leslie Odom, Jr.) steely ambition.

He also gives the musical's female leads - the Schuyler sisters - their moments in the spotlight in a way that a director who was primarily focused on the show's constitutional hip-hop set-pieces might have missed.

The agonies of Hamilton's wife, Eliza (Philippa Soo), and his unfulfilled romantic and intellectual attachment to her sister Anjelica (Renee Elise Goldsberry) play out in affecting close-up.

Although historians have raised questions about Hamilton's generous approach to the founding fathers' culpability for the United States' original sin - only Thomas Jefferson (Diggs again) is depicted as an unapologetic slave owner, while Hamilton's own historical anti-slavery interventions are played up - it also feels unbelievably timely, arriving as it does amid the Black Lives Matter protests.

Obviously, America's ambivalent attitude to its own founding principles when it comes to race haven't gone away since Miranda first conceived of a Hamilton mixtape more than a decade ago, and are repeatedly addressed with wit as well as incredulity.

But the ultimate tragedy of its protagonist's Icarus-like ambition, and the inevitable result of him valuing honour above good sense, also cuts to the heart of what makes America great but too often lays it low - a theme perfectly mused upon in closing number "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?"

At the risk of falling short of Hamilton's verse - his fatal feud with Burr (Sir) and their descent from noble words into foes flinging slurs - could be a parable about their country's place in the world.

If there's one sadness about seeing Hamilton now on Disney+, it is that for all Kail's efforts, those watching won't be able to experience the joy of seeing this dazzling production alongside an audience in a theatre or cinema.

However, during these difficult times, gathering round to watch with family and friends may prove to be the next best thing.

© Cover Media

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