Hamilton Review

Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) is a scrappy political upstart who joins George Washington (Christopher Jackson) in the fight for US independence and becomes one of his country’s Founding Fathers. But the brash, outspoken Hamilton makes powerful enemies, particularly Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs) and future Vice President Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr).

by Helen O'Hara |
Published on
Release Date:

03 Jul 2020

Original Title:


The biggest theatre phenomenon of the last decade, and one of the biggest cultural phenomena full stop, began life when Tony-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda took a holiday. He packed a copy of Ron Chernow’s book on Alexander Hamilton, and realised that the first US Secretary of the Treasury had a “hip-hop life”: from rags to riches via revolution, duels, scandal and tragedy. Hamilton therefore became a hip-hop musical, a densely plotted, endlessly energetic panorama of an extraordinary historical moment.


From George III’s admonition to turn off your phones onward, this Disney+ offering makes no apologies: it is a filmed theatre performance, not a Hamilton movie. But neither is it a static effort: director Thomas Kail allows his camera to drift across the stage from character to character, and mixes in some overhead shots to highlight the show’s extraordinary choreography and close-ups to enhance the drama’s powerful moments — particularly in Aaron Burr’s (Leslie Odom Jr) showstopping ‘Wait For It’. The camera often finishes in the footlights, tilted slightly up, adding to the monumental stature of its characters. The artificiality of the show’s devices — the minimalist staging and continually moving cast — takes a little getting used to on film, as does the fact that the soundtrack is not precisely the same as the cast recording you’ve been singing along to for four years now (two F-words have been edited out, for a start). But these are nits: Hamilton retains the power to move you to tears.

The songs are funny, entertaining and unfailingly smart, referencing everything from Shakespeare to Tupac.

That’s because Miranda’s Hamilton is a brilliantly complicated character, an arrogant, over-achieving nightmare and desperately insecure orphan at the same time, forever pushing some new policy on his fellow Founding Fathers. From humble beginnings, sheer talent elevates him to George Washington’s (Christopher Jackson) aide-de-camp during the Revolutionary War, and then into his first Cabinet. Along the way he marries well, to the rich Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo), though he may or may not be in love with his sister-in-law Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry). In power, he butts heads almost daily with Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs), before coming fatally to blows with one-time friend Burr.

It’s a huge amount of incident for any life, and remarkably it’s almost entirely true, apart from a few minor fudges. The sheer scope means that many actors play two roles: Diggs, for example, is the first act’s flamboyant revolutionary Marquis de Lafayette and later the even more attention-pulling Jefferson, in a purple frock coat to make Prince proud. To pack it all in is an extraordinary collection of songs that are funny, entertaining and unfailingly smart, referencing everything from Shakespeare to Tupac with the same quick wit as Hamilton himself.

This film isn’t quite like being there, but there are treats from the camera’s unparalleled theatre seat. We see not only Jonathan Groff’s little grimaces as George III, but his rage-spit as he proclaims his love of America. As Burr tries to hold Hamilton back from a debate, Diggs’ Lafayette literally pushes him on in a little motion that speaks volumes. Such tiny grace notes demonstrate just how good this cast are, collaborators in something they know is once-in-a-lifetime. It’s not quite a Hamilton movie, but it’ll still blow you all away.

Entertaining, energetic and unfailingly smart, this is theatre at the highest level, performed by a cast without a weak link. You can’t say no to this.
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