Hamilton, the revolutionary hip-hop musical that tells the story of America’s founding fathers, is a modern day masterpiece. Both the ongoing Broadway run and its West End counterpart have won countless awards and created such a buzz that tickets are notoriously difficult to get hold of and performances are sold out months in advance. It’s no surprise, then, that Disney bought the rights to the film version for $75million (£60million). “It felt really important to us that we were able to give this story, which felt like it was about all of us, to as many people as we could,” explained director Thomas Kail during a specially filmed introduction.
And for the most part, the Disney+ version (bumped up from its original Autumn 2021 release date in response to the ongoing COVID-19 situation) is the exact same as the one you’d see onstage. A couple of “fucks” have been edited out to maintain a PG-13 rating but this is the full theatrical experience (minus rustling sweet packets and diehard fans singing along) from the best seats in the house.
Sure, the closest we get to seeing the American War of Independence that dominates the first act is the sound of canon fire and a few members of the ensemble jumping in the air. But later, when the audience claps at lines like “immigrants, we get the job done”, it really underlines the musical’s political undertones. It’s important to remember that these characters were seen as terrorists until they won their independence and rewrote history.
“So much of what Hamilton is about is how history remembers, and how that changes over time. It takes on a different meaning when you see Black and Brown performers telling the origin story of our country,” explains Lin. With lyrics like ”History has its eyes on you,” and “Past patiently waiting” also being used as slogans at Black Lives Matter protests around the world, Hamilton is a vital story for right now as it explores America’s chaotic and rebellious past.
The opening song ‘Alexander Hamilton’ warns of how the story of Hamilton (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the musical based on Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of the same name), a flawed, restless but determined Caribbean-born orphaned immigrant and his friend turned enemy, the cautious but opportunistic Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), will end. But that doesn’t stop the next 160 minutes flying by in a blast of exhilarating drama as cabinet meetings are turned into rap battles and sex scandals are uncovered.
At its core, the film champions action – “If you stand for nothing Burr, what’ll you fall for?” asks Hamilton, annoyed at his indecision. Eliza (Phillipa Soo), Hamilton’s wife who also provides a majority of the heart-wrenching emotional moments, realises you can’t remove yourself from a narrative. In particular, the line, “this is a movement, not a moment,” is sadly relevant right now (here’s looking at you, Keir Starmer) while a warning from a scene-stealing Thomas Jefferson (Snowpiercer‘s Daveed Diggs) – “If there’s a fire you’re trying to douse, you can’t put it out from inside the house” – really leans into the idea of necessary rebellion that is celebrated throughout Hamilton.
Straddling the worlds of musical theatre and rap music, references to The Notorious B.I.G. sit comfortably alongside quotes from The Pirates of Penzance, the whole thing draws from the narrative-driven hip-hop records that made superstars of Kendrick Lamar, Eminem and Snoop Dogg. A period drama that obsesses over legacy, Hamilton changed the game when it first hit the stage and now this bold, brilliant and daring filmed version is set to do it all over again.
- Director: Thomas Kail
- Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Phillipa Soo, Leslie Odom Jr.
- Release date: July 3 (Disney+)