Culture: Jude Law may have underdog appeal as Hamlet

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The Independent Culture

Poor Jude Law. He must be quaking in his boots. He's been talking about playing Hamlet in the West End for at least seven years and the moment has finally arrived. He opens as the Dane at Wyndham's Theatre on Friday – and rarely have the critics' knives been so far out of their scabbards.

To begin with, he's a movie star and nothing is more likely to raise the hackles of a self-respecting drama critic than a celebrity taking a break in their busy schedule to do 12 weeks in the West End.

Then there's the fact that Hamlet is just about the most demanding role an actor can play. Look at the kicking Mel Gibson received for daring to take on the Dane in Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 adaptation – and that was meted out by movie critics, a much more charitable bunch.

But most importantly, there's Law's tarnished reputation. Last time he trod the boards – as Dr Faustus at the Young Vic – he got a fairly easy ride, but that was back in 2002, when he was still considered an up-and-comer. Since then he's become a poster boy for overexposure. Next time James McAvoy, Matthew Macfadyen or Damian Lewis are weighing up an offer from one of the big Hollywood studios, a quick glance at Jude Law's career will give them pause for thought. Saying "yes" too often is never a good idea.

There have been a number of lows in Law's career – Alfie, The Holiday, Sleuth – but the worst was probably Chris Rock's gag at his expense during the 2005 Academy Awards ("You want Tom Cruise and all you can get is Jude Law?"). Law can't even claim it was tinged with affection. It was out-and-out abuse and Sean Penn was obliged to spring to his defence (spouting that Law was "one of our finest actors"). He was paying the price for having spread himself too thin.

Yet, Law's career is in such a pitiful state it could conceivably work to his advantage. Drama critics like bashing movie stars who wander on to their patch because they can't resist the urge to topple some big shot. But they can scarcely take Law any further down than he already is. Indeed, he may have underdog appeal – the theatrical equivalent of Jade Ewen, Britain's entrant at the Eurovision Song Contest. For his sake, let's hope so.

'Hamlet' is at Wyndham's Theatre, London WC2, from Friday to 22 August