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  • DeeNine-226 February 2003
    Part of the genius of Branagh's interpretation of Hamlet is in the use of the techniques of the cinema to enhance the production. Branagh has not condensed the acts like some mass market soup, as was done in Olivier's 1948 Oscar-winning production, or in, say, Zeffirelli's 1989 Hamlet lite starring Mel Gibson (both excellent, though, within their scope), but has kept every word while directing our understanding so that even those only casually familiar with the play might follow the intent and purpose with discernment. Recall that for Shakespeare--the ultimate actor's playwright who wrote with precious few stage directions--interpretation was left to the direction and the actors, an open invitation that Branagh rightly accepts.

    The use of flashback scenes of things implied, such as the amorous union of Ophelia and her Lord Hamlet abed, or of a vast expanse of snow darkened with distant soldiers to represent the threat of Fortinbras' army from without, and especially the vivid remembrance in the mind's eye of the new king's dastardly deed of murder most foul, helps us all to more keenly appreciate just what it is that torments Hamlet's soul. I also liked the intense closeups. How they would have bemused and delighted an Elizabethan audience.

    Branagh's ambitious Hamlet is also one of the most accessible and entertaining, yet without the faintest hint of any dumbing down or abbreviation. A play is to divert, to entertain, to allow us to identify with others who trials and tribulations are so like our own. And so first the playwright seeks to engage his audience, and only then, by happenstance and indirection, to inspire and to inform. Shakespeare did this unconsciously, we might say. He wrote for the popular audience of his time, a broad audience, it should be noted, that included kings and queens as well as knaves and beggars, and he reached them, one and all. We are much removed from those times, and yet, this play, this singular achievement in theatre, still has the power to transcend mere entertainment, to fuse poetry and story, as well as the high and the low, and speak once again to a new audience twenty generations removed.

    Branagh himself is a wonderful Hamlet, perhaps a bit of a ham at times (as I think was Shakespeare's intent), a prince who is the friend of itinerant players. He also lacks somewhat in statute (as we conceive our great heroes); nonetheless his interpretation of the great prince's torment and his singular obsession to avenge his father's murder speaks strongly to us all. Branagh, more than any other Hamlet, makes us understand the distracted, anguished and tortured prince, and guides us to not only an appreciation of his actions, wild and crazy as they sometimes are, but to an identification and an understanding of why (the eternal query) Hamlet is so long in assuming the name of action. In Branagh's production, this old quibble with Hamlet's character dissolves itself into a dew, and we realize that he was acting strongly, purposely all the while. He had to know the truth without doubt so that he might act in concert with it.

    I was also very much impressed with Derek Jacobi's Claudius. One recalls that Jacobi played Hamlet in the only other full cinematic production of the play that I know of, produced in 1980 by the BBC with Claire Bloom as Gertrude; and he was an excellent Hamlet, although perhaps like Branagh something less than a massive presence. His Claudius combines second son ambition with a Machiavellian heart, whose words go up but whose thoughts remind below, as is the way of villains everywhere.

    Kate Winslet is a remarkable Ophelia, lending an unusual strength to the role (strength of character is part of what Kate Winslet brings to any role), but with the poor, sweet girl's vulnerability intact. She does the mad scene with Claudius as well as I have seen it done, and of course her personal charisma and beauty embellish the production.

    Richard Briers as Polonius, proves that that officious fool is indeed that, and yet something more so that we can see why he was a counselor to the king. The famous speech he gives to Laertes as his son departs for France, is really ancient wisdom even though it comes from a fool.

    Julie Christie was a delight as the besmirched and wretched queen. In the bedroom scene with Hamlet she becomes transparent to not only her son, but to us all, and we feel that the camera is reaching into her soul. She is outstanding.

    The bit players had their time upon the stage and did middling well to very good. I liked Charlton Heston's player king (although I think he and John Gielgud might have switched roles to good effect) and Billy Crystal's gravedigger was finely etched. Only Jack Lemon's Marcellus really disappointed, but I think that was mainly because he was so poorly cast in such a role. Not once was he able to flash the Jack Lemon grin that we have come to know so well.

    The idea of doing a Shakespearean play with nineteenth century dress in the late twentieth century worked wonderfully well, but I know not why. Perhaps the place and dress are just enough removed from our lives that they are somewhat strange but recognizable in a pleasing way. And perhaps it is just another tribute to the timeless nature of Shakespeare's play.

    There is so much more to say about this wonderful cinematic production. It is, all things considered, one of the best Hamlets ever done. Perhaps it is the best. See it, by all means, see it for yourself.

    (Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
  • tbone_4ever5 February 2005
    I must say that, looking at Hamlet from the perspective of a student, Brannagh's version of Hamlet is by far the best. His dedication to stay true to the original text should be applauded. It helps the play come to life on screen, and makes it easier for people holding the text while watching, as we did while studying it, to follow and analyze the text.

    One of the things I have heard criticized many times is the casting of major Hollywood names in the play. I find that this helps viewers recognize the characters easier, as opposed to having actors that all look and sound the same that aid in the confusion normally associated with Shakespeare.

    Also, his flashbacks help to clear up many ambiguities in the text. Such as how far the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia really went and why Fortinbras just happened to be at the castle at the end. All in all, not only does this version contain some brilliant performances by actors both familiar and not familiar with Shakespeare. It is presented in a way that one does not have to be an English Literature Ph.D to understand and enjoy it.
  • I enjoyed this film immensely when it came out, going to it five times while it was still in theatres. A much better way to spend an evening than watching the retread scifi thriller material out at the time.

    I have to admit though that after seeing it again a few times on video it doesn't have the same attraction for me that it originally did. As film, it's solid. The settings are wonderful, and I admire the desire to produce the entire play unedited.

    I don't enjoy the acting as much as I first did. In the case of Branagh, that may be merely a matter of personal taste. I would prefer a less garrulous Hamlet. Obviously, since all actors of Hamlet are working from the same script, unless edited, this is dependent entirely on the manner in which they portray the character. I find Branagh's performance a bit cloying, and far too over the top in some cases.

    In addition, some of the cameos are distracting. Heston and Crystal I enjoy, but Williams, and particularly Lemmon, are annoying. The others, Attenborough et al, are fine.

    While I can't give Hamlet a whole-hearted recommendation, I have to say that it far surpasses the trite commercialism of all the new "greatest films of all time" which have come out over the last few years. That's a phrase being used far too often now, revealing a lack of familiarity with the great films of the past. In that sense, I admire Mr. Branagh's desire to bring great drama to the screen, and hope that he meets with continued success in the future.
  • espenshade5522 September 2004
    Olivier, Kosentsev, Richardson, Coranado, Zefferelli, and Almerayeda have all directed Hamlet but Branagh's the only one who got it right.

    This is the only film of "Hamlet" that contains the full four hours of William Shakespeare's masterpiece and gives a unique feel to the whole story.

    Not many directors could pull this off without boring their audience but Branagh's skillful use of bravora film style and stunt casting allows people to see the importance of the scenes that are usually cut out.

    Examples of this include Gerarde Depardue as Ranyaldo whos entire purpose in the film was to simply say "yes my lord" as Polonius asks him to spy on Leartes. This also included Billy Crystal as the grave digger, Robin Williams as Osric, Jack Lemmon as Marcellous, and Charlton Heston as the actor.

    Branagh's performance of the Act 4 scene 4 soliloquy (Which again is usually cut out) is nothing short of c cinematic marvel as the camera slowly pulls back as the intensity grows. It is a scene that literally made me want to jump out of my chair and start applauding.

    Branagh is the only film maker that understood the importance of every scene in this film and knew how to convey that importance to the general audience.

    This is a must see for everyone who enjoy's good story telling, brilliant acting,and incredible direction. All of these part of William Shakespeares greatest triumph.
  • What an ambitious project Kenneth Branagh undertook here and how well it was realized! This is the first filmed version of 'Hamlet' to use the full text of Shakespeare's play, but Branagh didn't do it just because "it was there." His intention, I believe, was to make the play accessible and understandable to the general viewer without dumbing it down, so to speak. In return he asks viewers to put in a little work themselves, a fair enough proposition and one that's a bargain.

    The setting is a generic 19th century European one and this does more than work well, it keeps a modern or ancient look from possibly distracting from the work itself. The production design and cinematography and both outstanding, which helps immensely when you're watching a four-hour movie. Branagh's casting once again is inspired and the acting is likewise. The direction accomplishes the heavy task of making this a movie rather than a deluxe version of a play. Since so much of 'Hamlet' is based on interior monologue and there are relatively few duels, battles, etc., this can be a daunting task. But everything Branagh tries to do seems to work.

    Branagh has always been one of the most interesting actor/writer/directors, if not always the best, since he made his big splash with 'Henry V.' One quibble I had with him was what I saw as a tendency to ham it up at times. In his portrayal of Hamlet here he might be accused of that again, but there is a method at work. Let's face it, 'Hamlet' is not an easy work for the average person to understand and if one has never seen it performed before, he or she needs help even if they've read the play. Hamlet has the most lines of any Shakespearian character and Branagh makes sure that his viewers know what this man is thinking and feeling throughout the film, even if you don't know the literal meaning of every arcane word. This performance by Branagh was at the very least worthy of an Oscar nomination.

    There are so many other outstanding performances here they're almost too numerous to mention, but some of them must be acknowledged. Derek Jacobi as Claudius is superb but even he takes a back seat to Kate Winslet when it comes to handing out praise. Her portrayal of Ophelia is awesome in its depth of feeling, made only more outstanding by the knowledge that she was only about 20 years old at the time! She looks to me like the finest young actress around. Other super performers in no particular order are Richard Briers, Nicholas Farrell, Michael Maloney, and Reece Dinsdale and Timothy Spall as Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, respectively. Honorable mention goes to Julie Christie, Charlton Heston, and Robin Williams, who manages to do his thing here successfully. Even Billy Crystal as a gravedigger works. The one cast member who doesn't, inexplicably, is Jack Lemmon. In the very opening scene he appears, and while the other three actors do a great job at setting the tense mood, Lemmon sounds like he is just running lines in rehearsal as a favor. You know this must have been a real dilemma for Branagh, since everything else about the movies screams out that it's the work of a perfectionist.

    Not to be facetious when speaking of a four-hour movie, but it does seem just a tad too long. Some monologues and conversations do tend to go on a bit, if I may be so bold, and a little bit of judicious pruning would be welcome.

    Did I forget anything, other than Patrick Doyle's score? No doubt I did. I'll just sum up by saying that Kenneth Branagh may have made the definitive film version of 'Hamlet,' and it will be a truly monumental production that tops this one.
  • Still being of school age, and having to learn Shakespeare almost constantly for the last four years (which is very off-putting of any writer, no matter how good), I didn't really expect to enjoy this film when my English teacher put it on; I thought it'd be the typical English lesson movie: bad acting, awfully shot, badly edited and the dreaded awful old dialog, so, as you can tell, I was all but ready to go into a coma from the go. However, I watched and, much to my disturbance, found myself not only paying attention, but actually enjoying the movie too. This production of Hamlet is possibly one of the best drama movies I have seen in a long time- and it really brings to life what I expect Shakespeare wanted his plays to be like (well, with the difference that this is cinema) much better than my English teacher harking over the text ever possibly could. The story is good, the dialog seems to flow with an unexpected grace that is far from boring (though a little hard to keep up with if you aren't used to Shakespeare's language) and even the smallest parts are performed with a skill you wouldn't expect; mainly, perhaps, due to the staggering number of cameos this movie has. Brian Blessed and Charlton Heston are as great as you'd expect these two veterans to be, even in such small parts, but it is Robin Williams as Osric and Billy Crystal as the Gravedigger who really stand out, giving such minor parts an unexpected zest, as well as offering some comic relief amidst the tragedy.

    The main stars, of course, are also wonderful. Kenneth Branagh excels as Hamlet, bringing not only the confusion and pain required to the roll, but also a sort of sardonic air which plays beautifully in the comic scenes, making the movie as a whole much more watchable. The other major players are also good, but it is Kenneth Branagh who stands head and shoulders above the rest in the title role.

    The set pieces, too, are often quite stunning, giving a refreshing change to the danky old castle corridors we're used to seeing in Shakespeare productions, as well as a real sense of the country around them.

    Of course, the movie, taken as a movie in its own right, is not without faults, but no major ones (the pacing is the only real problem I can think of offhand, as well as the prose for anyone not used to, as I said, Shakesperean language) and, especially when compared to the sort of Shakespeare productions I'm used to seeing in class, it really is quite brilliant. It's even made me rethink my previous typical teenager stance on Shakespeare, that his plays are boring (I came to the conclusion it's not the plays that are boring, merely the teachers who recite them in class). If only they made all of his plays into movies such as this one, English students in schools everywhere might have a higher opinion of the Bard.

    Overall 7/10
  • As a play, Hamlet is an anchor of civilization, and even moderately successful films are worth seeing. But in making the translation to film, the artist has two challenges.

    The first concerns the work as drama. This is Shakespeare's most ambitious vision, one he tinkered with and enlarged both conceptually and literally. The purest choice, the only choice which can encompass the full weave of the work, is to include everything -- and that's what Branagh has done. Consequently, this work has extra dimensions of life. In doing so, he's included some nice touches:

    --gone are superficial hints of mother-lust in the closet scene. These were never in the text.

    --we are reminded that Hamlet's initial and sustaining anger is because his uncle jumped into the line of succession

    --we see the hints that Hamlet was a student of Bruno in the book on witchcraft he consults after seeing the ghost. Also his book on `matters' (often thought to be Bruno's) is actually given to Ophelia. Nice. Shows deep research.

    --Polonius is treated humanely, as more than a dottering fool. This makes Ophelia's loss (and earlier obedience) believable.

    The second challenge is cinematic. The play was written for sparse settings; it translates naturally to audio tape and unnaturally to film. So the filmmaker has an open palette. Branagh makes some interesting choices. Many work extremely well, in particular the mirrors in the `to be' and Ophelia sequence. Others are strange:

    --he introduces recognizable actors in secondary roles to jar us into the realization that this is a play. (One of these is really funny. How do you portray an actor among actors playing non-actors. Well, you get a noticeably BAD actor. I wonder if Heston knows he'll be goofed on for this for many decades as this film outlives his sandled perorations.)

    --he introduces some almost satirical film reflections: a cheesy ghost, an Errol Flynn chandelier swing...

    --he provides visual overlays for some of the images implied in the text: Hamlet's lovemaking, considerations in Norway, reflections of the players. This ruins a few of the important ambiguities but we do have a wealth to spend after all.

    --in perhaps the worst loss of ambiguity, he makes Fortinbras an invader. This is done only to allow for some cinematic sweep at the end. Okay, I'll reluctantly buy it since the alternative is extended mugging in the death scenes.

    I think Branagh and collaborators meet the first challenge nearly perfectly. As to the second challenge, this is our very best film version, in part because of extending the US tradition of playing the characters as real people (versus the UK tradition of characters as speechifiers). So far as the cinematic challenge, there are some great, really great visions here, but there are also some big cinematic misses which keeps this far from perfect. Until Greenaway attempts it, this is the best film Hamlet we have, and that simply makes it one of the best, most rewarding films ever. I'll bet Branagh tries again before he dies.
  • seen one you've seen them all, right? wrong! I still like the sombre Olivier version and Gibson did well, but this is in a class of its own.

    I finally realized with this expanded production set 200 years closer to the present the full message that Shakespeare cleverly concealed with the more prominent aspect of Hamlet's quandary, and that is he, Hamlet, is driven to distraction by the awareness its the insidiousness of human nature that created the conditions that saw his father murdered.

    looking at the play with this insight you can see numerous scenes where this notion is there in the background. and by changing the era, Branagh shows yet again the astonishing applicability of that truth. all you need is to read a newspaper, something 'included' in this production.

    thank god for British stage actors raised on Shakespeare.

    a very rewarding viewing.
  • This was long. 4 hours of uncondensed Shakespeare and I must say I enjoyed it. Kenneth Branagh is perhaps the Laurence Oliver of our times. A great actor obsessed with the work of Shakespeare. And this is his masterpiece, Hamlet (1996), a free uncondensed version with every line of what Shakespeare has written, on the last movie ,besides The Master, filmed on 70mm film.

    If you've graduated high school, you probably know the story of Hamlet. Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his father, who request the he kills his uncle, the new king of Denmark, because he murdered Hamlet's father. What I love about this adaptation is the things Kenneth Branagh does because he's using the medium of film. The use of Flashbacks in events is a great use that the stage adaptations could never do, same with the scenery. Elsinore Castle comes alive. It was genius for him to set the story in the 19th century. It gives a beautiful touch to the movie and costumes and set design were appropriate. THe final thing he does great is how he plays Hamlet. My English teacher taught him more as a mopey Dane, but he plays him as a cunning but indecisive genius which I believe is more interesting. His soliloquies have great touch to them, using visual elements and artful expression to make them interesting instead if Rambling.

    The cast is great too. No weak link in the acting, and everyone holds their own. The guest appearances of famous actors, Charlton Heston, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal add moments of freshness to secondary characters. The Cinematography shows off the world well and fits most scenes, same with the music.

    The problem is the length. It drags in places and with trimming could've been a masterful movie.

    Overall great adaptation (better than the Mel Gibson one) and shows off to a new generation the beauty and power of something written 400 years ago. If you have the time, check it out.

  • First, what I didn't like. The acting was not really up to the Hamlet standard. Branagh was really over-the-top, doing a lot of yelling mostly. In my opinion, those actors who were not big-name celebrities generally did a better job; though I would except Billy Crystal and Robin Williams. (And Charlton Heston, too, but I wasn't sure if he was playing at being a hack.) A lot of the ambiguities in the play were clearly resolved one way in the flashbacks.

    What I think speaks very much in this play's favor is that it is accessible. Shakespeare is hard to understand for the vast majority of people nowadays; many people are not even inclined to try, because of its reputation as Serious Literature and its archaic English. If they see this film they will understand clearly at least one man's interpretation of the play. They will be seeing it more as Shakespeare's audiences saw it: a play with sword fights and battles, and mighty kings and nobles, murder and incest and evil schemes and ghosts--and great art, if one cares to look for it, but in Shakespeare's day most didn't, any more than most people do now. Branagh's overacting, and his forcing of his interpretation of the story on the viewer, may detract from Shakespeare's art somewhat, but it is better that modern audiences get a piece of it, rather than nothing.

    I've got to say one more thing though. Some people are complaining that "it's set in the 19th century and that wasn't Shakespeare's time". Well, in Shakespeare's time their costume and scenery was that of their own day for all of their plays. Shakespeare may have SAID it's in the days of ancient Rome or medieval Denmark or whatever, but he didn't dress his characters up like they were, he used the costumes of his own time. For the same reason his plays are full of anachronisms. For example, in King John the English and French have cannons--in Robin Hood's day. In Julius Caesar they talk of chimneys, which wouldn't be invented for another thousand years, and in Henry IV they talk about Machiavelli, who wasn't even born yet then. So I think this objection is silly--you might as well complain that the play isn't in Danish (after all they live in Denmark don't they?).
  • Branagh claims to present the only complete, uncut movie version of Hamlet, and his version is indeed much longer than anyone else's. However, it is not, as Branagh would have us believe, Hamlet as Shakespeare intended it to be. The "complete text" of Hamlet is really an amalgamation of three extant texts, and there is no evidence to suggest that these texts were ever performed together in their entirety in Shakespeare's day. While we don't know how long these plays were when originally performed--though the prologue of Romeo and Juliet mentions "the two hour's traffic of our stage"--we can be fairly certain that Shakespeare's company never indulged themselves as

    Indulgence is the name of the game in Branagh's Hamlet. What else could explain the movie's excessive length, its lavish opulence, and its absurd number of torso shots? Why else would Branagh ask Gerard Depardieu, one of the greatest living French actors, to speak only five lines of text (none of them memorable)? Why else would he get Judi Dench to play a role that doesn't even appear in Shakespeare's text? Why (mis-)cast Jack Lemmon in a role that would have been played more effectively by a much younger actor? Though certainly a great actor and a fine director, Branagh's self-indulgence threatens to overwhelm this movie at every turn. Perhaps the problem stems from his desire to make the definitive version of a text so endlessly resonant that it resists any definitive version.

    That said, there is much to praise in this movie. Branagh's Hamlet is aggressive, moody, brilliant, robust--more appealing than Olivier's brooding dreamer. The larger roles are all played admirably, particularly Jacobi's charismatic Claudius. Finally, there are some scenes in the film that are as great as anything Branagh has ever done. The "To be or not to be" soliloquy, set in a hall of two-way mirrors with Claudius and Polonius lying in wait behind one, approaches cinematic genius.

  • The actors play wonderfully, especially Kenneth Branagh himself. It's good that Robin Williams got the comedy role of Osiric, otherwise it could be a bit strange to see him in such a production. It is really great that Kenneth decided to use the fullest version of the text, this happens definitely not too often... Thanks to that the viewers can see the whole, not the chosen - by the director - parts. Also - thank God that the film is in a classical form; NO to surrealistic fanfaberies ! Although "Tytus Andronicus" was impressive nevertheless, but still Hamlet is a different story, at least that's my point of view.
  • I saw this film on its release, and have watched it 3 or 4 more times, including last week. I regret I have to be a voice of dissension with regard to Mr. Branagh's performance.

    This is really a glorious, sumptuous film, to say nothing of ambitious at over 4 hours long - beautifully shot and designed. Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Kate Winslet, Richard Briers, and many others do fine jobs. Then there's Kenneth Branagh. If ever there was a vanity project for an actor, this is it, and Mr. Branagh spares nothing in putting the "ham" in Hamlet. From the stunt casting (which gives us the worst performance ever by the woefully miscast Jack Lemmon), to the bits of distracting business thrown in to infuse a sense of "naturalness," to his own performance which runs the gamut from throwing away the single most famous soliloquy in all of literature to screaming every line of others. His performance confirms that, while he may come across better on stage where bigger is necessary, he has never been a great film actor. The scenery budget could be charged to catering, Mr. Branagh eats so much of it. His performance is a perfect example of why people don't go to see Shakespeare - "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." And if there is fault to his direction, it is that he keeps the camera firmly glued on his overblown performance.

    No matter what theories people may posit on the Bard, he was, after all is said and done, a playwright. The brilliance of his plays rest in the fact that his themes are universal and timeless. Although there is no "right" way to play his plays, there is most certainly great acting, good acting and bad acting. Shakespeare himself gives instructions to the players in the text of "Hamlet" itself. It amazes me how Mr. Branagh "mouthed" it, but did not hear it. It was an example of spending too much time working out how he's going to say something, and too little figuring out WHAT he's saying.

    While Mr. Branagh has certainly done a wonderful job in mounting some entertaining productions, he would be wise to stay behind the camera and allow those who know the art of acting to practice it. His direction has always been better than his acting. I still give him immense credit for resurrecting interest in filming Shakespeare. He set a great template for other productions. And, it would be interesting to see him onstage, from about 20 rows back. But, I do hope he chooses to direct more and act less.

    Is it worth seeing? Certainly. There are many little joys to be found in the film. But, it's a long, long movie and, by the end, one may feel less that they enjoyed than survived it.
  • This ludicrous and inept film is certainly the most misguided version of "Hamlet" to ever reach the screen. Branagh's approach to the material can only be described as vulgar; going to such lengths as depicting Ophelia in a straight jacket, having Fortinbras' army appear suddenly on the horizon (looking very much like the climax of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail") when the palace is apparently guarded only by Francisco (who shouts the very un-Shakespearean cry of "ataaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack" before being gunned down), and multitudes of star cameos that harken back to the days of Jimmy Cagney's Bottom and Mary Pickford's Kate.

    Branagh chose to set his film in an Edwardian setting but at the same time decided to employ an almost uncut text, so that frequently the dialogue that is firmly rooted in Elizabethan mentality makes no sense in the context that it is being performed. And Branagh does not concern himself with such textural subtleties as the ambiguous nature of Hamlet and Olphelia's relationship, treating the audience to a vulgar nude sex scene between the couple that tosses any ambiguity right out the stained glass window.

    The uncut text does allow Branagh to indulge in his favorite cinematic pastime: more footage of Kenneth Branagh. This is never so apparent as in the "How All Occasions Inform Against Me" speech that ends the first half of the nineteen hour film (at least that's how it feels), which attempts to play to a dramatic crescendo along the lines of Gone With The Wind's "I'll never be hungry again." This may serve Branagh's ego, but it does not serve Shakespeare or the speech: when I saw the film in the theater, I leaned over to my companion and snickered "Great Moments With Mr. Hamlet." Branagh saves the funniest and most tasteless moment for last, when he attempts to out-do the Olivier film and its justly celebrated death of Claudius by having Hamlet jump from off a high tower onto the monarch, impaling him with a sword. Branagh's Dane does in the king by heroically throwing an apparently magic rapier from across the palace to run through Claudius' heart with a super hero's bulls eye. The only thing that saved the moment from being unbearably maddening was that it was so off-the-wall funny.

    While this film has been praised in some quarters as a serious depiction of the tragedy, it is in fact nothing but a star-studded display of a once-talented filmmaker being overtaken by his own narcissism. The Emperor has no clothes, and this Hamlet has nothing to offer but a few unintended laughs and the appalling sight of one man's ego out of control.
  • I admit I've only seen about three of Shakespeare's plays (Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, & of course Hamlet) one I liked, the other I found so-so (Macbeth), and Hamlet I just found a masterpiece. I'm pleased to tell you that this adaptation is every bit as good as the intense and dramatic play. The acting is extremely strong (With a cast that features Kenneth Branagh, Robin Williams, and Billy Crystal how can you lose?) and the change in time period (Looks like somewhere between the 17 and 1800's) plays off beautifully as the characters move about and say their infamous lines straight from the script itself that any fan of the Shakespearean play will get chills from. If you're into this popular drama I highly urge you to watch this powerful 1996 adaptation from Shakespearean admirer Kenneth Branagh.
  • The redeeming quality to this version of Hamlet (in my eyes)is the fact that it stays true to the original length and order of the play by Shakespeare. More filmmakers should try this, especially with Shakespeare (who is one of the obvious geniuses of the millennium). It would make sense, since Branagh supposedly cares about staying true to the original, to set it in the time it was meant to be set in, NOT the Victorian era, which Shakespeare never even saw. It is garish and much too bright, especially when the overacting and needless action is added. The dialogue should take center stage in many scenes (especially the last one).

    Because of this, I prefer both the Laurence Olivier and the Zeffirelli version of Hamlet, which takes advantage of dark and spare castle rooms and the countryside where Ophelia spends her last hours.
  • Kenneth Branaugh's 'Hamlet' is the first film version of Shakepeare's play to have been filmed with all of the content put back in. At 234 minutes it is never boring but shows the work of a director in love with this classic play.

    What we get from this longer version (the first in which not a single line has been trimmed) is that the characters motives become that much clearer. Studying Hamlet in school I had a hard time understanding how Hamlet's girl Ophelia went mad. Here the motivation is not only clearer but we see her in the process of her madness.

    We get from this version a wonderful performance by Kenneth Branaugh as the young prince who gets a visit from his father's ghost to inform him that it was his uncle that murdered him and now occupies the throne and the bed chamber of Hamlet's mother. But how to accuse the king of murder without making everyone think that you've gone completely mad? Most of the versions of this play have trimmed the fat and only given us the bare bones. This film is able to explain a few things and more, to help me understand motivations the play's message of mortality.

    I have never been able to understand how Claudius was able to convince sister-in-law Gertrude to marry him so soon after the king's death. Derek Jacobi brings such charm to the role that it's not only clear how he charmed he new wife but how he masterminded his brother's death as well. Much to our surprise and dismay, we sort of begin to understand why he did it. Key pieces of dialogue have been restored that flesh out the characters even more.

    Branaugh knows that the dialogue is key to the characters but also understands that the atmosphere of the castle plays a key role as well. The production design by Tim Harvey and Desmond Crowe are breathtaking suggesting a court of infinite secrets, not just a medieval castle of horrors. The opening scenes at the wedding of Claudius and Gertrude is a sight to behold with a hall that seems to stretch back and back and back into infinity. The throne room with it's wall of mirrors, some of which are passageways, leads to one of the most original scenes – Hamlet's To be or Not to be soliloquy spoken to a mirror with people hiding behind it. Is he talking to them or his own reflection? Are his questions in the reflection coming back at him? Then something else happens that I've never seen before in any version of Hamlet – a flashback of Yorich. During his scene in the graveyard he begins questioning the skull of the king's favorite buck-toothed clown. We flash back to the time when he played horsey with the young Hamlet. Then a close-up and a dissolve to the skull in Hamlet's hands with the buck-teeth still in it. The question of mortality remains but in Kenneth Branaugh's hands it hits home.

    Branaugh's performance as Hamlet is never morbid or redundant. He lashes out, overplays and uses wild gestures as he masterminds a plan to bring his uncle's guilt to the surface without making everyone think that the prince himself has gone off his rocker. This is key because making Hamlet into a pitiful slump distracts from what he does later in the play. He wonders about the matters of life and death, both physical and spiritual but Branaugh does it with curiosity not misery.

    I have never been so entertained by a filmed version of Shakespeare. Branaugh throws away the stogy, stagy elements that turn many people off of Shakespeare. But he really brings this film to life, not just the words but the actions. This is a man completely in love with this masterful play, he knows it we sense and I for one am grateful to have witnessed it.
  • There are films one watches simply because there are a lot of famous people in it. There are films we watch because the story is a classic, and we like to compare it previous versions.

    If you're watching it for the former reason, you won't be at a loss for finding famous faces. If the latter reason compels you, don't bother.

    This long, heinous exercise in ego masturbation is one example of how one actor can take himself too seriously. Kenneth Brannagh, a highly regarded British darling, stars as Hamlet, a role far too young for a man of KB's age to play. His over-the-top portrayal of the Prince of Denmark would probably have been perfect for a huge stage production, but seems ridiculously hammy, even in this lavish setting.

    If you want a good laugh, watch Gerard Depardieu's cameo scene. Utilizing this beloved French actor in a scene that clearly displays his lack of English skills, it's hilarious to watch him him repeat over and over "Aye, my Lord" and "Yes, my Lord," especially since he obviously doesn't understand what Hamlet is saying to him.

    I hate to admit this, but even Mel Gibson's Hamlet surpasses this one, if only for the fact that it's more to the point and easier for younger students of Shakespeare to comprehend.

    If you want to see Shakepeare works done well, watch Ian McKellan in Richard III. Do your best to skip this film entirely, unless you want to make a drinking game of it.
  • pzanardo20 September 2000
    I consider "Hamlet" a very bad movie. The acting style is dreadful: the actors shoot bursts of words in a machine-gun way. The beauty of Shakespeare's verses is utterly spoiled: poetry needs a reasonable time to be enjoyed. What about playing Beethoven's last quartets at the tempo of a Tarantella Napoletana? I cannot stand the mania in recent British movies of representing Shakespeare's works in 19th century costumes. Yes, I know that in Elizabethan times the actors were dressed in contemporary robes. Indeed, I am deeply convinced that such habits were due to economical, or legal, by no means artistic reasons. As a matter of fact, feminine roles were played by boys, why not doing the same today? In any case, the film was made in the 20th century, not in the 19th.

    I don't see the point of the huge number of cameos by famous actors. In particular, the great but very old Jack Lemmon as the soldier is definitely ridiculous (alas!). I was amazed in checking that Branagh was just thirty-six when the movie was made: he looks considerably older, too old to be Hamlet. The photography is straightforward and the setting into an actual Danish royal palace is clumsy and grinding.

    By no means the sex scenes between Hamlet and Ophelia could be forgiven. They are preposterous for a film which boasts strict fidelity to Shakespeare's work: in the tragedy it is (almost) openly stated that Ophelia is virgin (and that she would like to change her status). And the very idea the fiancee of a prince be non-chaste was so totally inconceivable in the 16th (and 19th) century, that these sex scenes are even more grotesque than coarse and inappropriate.
  • As usual, Kenneth Branagh has substituted all-star casting and "shtick" for real, in-depth, meaningful interpretation of Shakespeare -- only this time he's done it to one of the greatest icons of Western culture: Shakespeare's complex revenge tragedy, _Hamlet_.

    Under the guise of an "uncut" version of the play (a term that requires interpretation in itself since we don't know exactly how Shakespeare's original was performed; the earliest versions are quite different from one another), Branagh has presented an often miscast, self-indulgent, periodically unclear mess of a film (why is it set in the 19th century?). His choice of actors is often puzzling. For example, the late, great Jack Lemmon is a wonderful actor, but as a mid-70 year old castle guard, he is out of place. So is Gerard Depardieu, who, wonderful though he is, cannot be justified as the spy, Reynaldo (where did a Danish spy acquire a French accent). Finally, Charlton Heston is downright poor as the First Player. Branagh, himself, is a dull and muddy-mettled Hamlet to be sure. His interpretations as both actor and director smack of "One from column A and one from column B" thinking.

    The film is helped only slightly by the fine performances of Richard Briers (Polonius) and Derek Jacobi (an unusually sympathetic Claudius) and the interesting, though poorly directed and photographed Ghost of Brian Blessed.

    Skip this one and go directly to the Burton stage performance, the BBC version with Derek Jacobi as Hamlet, or the classic Olivier film -- cuts and all; all three are far superior.
  • In the movie, Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh, Prince Hamlet recently has returned from England only to discover that his father was mysteriously murdered and his mother remarrying his uncle, Claudius. One night, Hamlet comes face to face with the ghost of his deceased father, King Hamlet, who reveals that Claudius is the man who murdered him and asks Hamlet one thing, to seek revenge. Throughout this literary adaptation of one of Shakespeare's most well known plays, Kenneth Branagh leaves everyone on the edge of their seats as they follow Hamlet and his plot to seek revenge. The play itself is one to watch for, but the big screen adaptation is right there with it. The characters, emotions and actions were flawlessly shown throughout the film, leaving no complaints from myself. Though this may not be a movie recommended for those under the age of 13, Hamlet is acceptable to show to freshman in highschool and adults of any age. To conclude, the silver screen adaptation of Hamlet, is an exceptional movie and highly recommended for those who are fans of Shakespeare's work or for those who just want to enjoy a movie.
  • ellisahadsall26 February 2018
    This is truly the perfect rendition of Hamlet. Kenneth Branagh has given us Shakespeare's play just the way it was meant to be. Nothing has been omitted,not a single line or scene. Even the specific phrasing and delivery of the lines are perfect. Kenneth gives the best rendition of the "To Be or Not To Be" soliloquy that I have ever seen. When I first saw the film I truly believed this is how Shakespeare would want it. Though they added a bit of "Hollywood Drama" I truly believe this is a beautiful version of Hamlet.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    'Hamlet' has never looked finer. Bragnagh has brought the most out of Shakespeare's most beloved play. We truly get the complete story brought out in grand scale. The cast is probably the finest a Shakesparean film has ever received. The sets and camera work are epic in every sense of the word. However I feel Bragnagh's 'Hamlet' falls short of truly being a masterpiece. I really truly wonder if 'Hamlet' cries out to be an epic. It is a psychological drama and a character study. At the worst moments of Bragnagh's opus this is forgotten.

    I really don't know if I consider 'Hamlet' to be the greatest Shakespearean play. In terms of plot it is somewhat anti-climatic. I do however think that Hamlet is the greatest character I've ever read. To read Hamlet is like dissecting the psyche. Shakespeare's monologues and soliloquies in 'Hamlet' are brilliant dissections of the soul. If anything I want 'Hamlet' to be smaller and more intimate for a greater appreciation of this brilliant character and Shakespeare's language. Bragnagh's film sometimes looses sight of this. While I respect Bragnagh's ambition I somewhat don't understand why the epic scope is so necessary. There are brilliant shots of the Mountains, and charges of soldiers but really what have they to do with Hamlet's inner turmoil? The film is at it's best when it is smaller. I was nearly breathless when Hamlet listens to Claudius' confession, or the classic 'To Be Or Not to Be' soliloquy. Those moments are golden but Hamlet's epic duel with Laertes or the over done build up to the production seem muffled.

    Bragnagh is a fine Hamlet. Oddly though I feel that he doesn't savor the language. There are moments in the film where Bragnagh rushes through the speeches and dialogue as if it were some sort of race. I love Shakespeare and one of the great pleasures of acting in Shakespearean piece is savoring the language. How often will you utter words of such brilliance and poignancy? Taking your time also allows more clarity for the audience.

    Again, I respect every choice Bragnagh made and applaud him for it. My only question is are these appropriate for 'Hamlet'? I think the film looks wonderful and has tremendously passionate performances. I love the entire ensemble including Robin Williams, Jack Lemmon, and Billy Crystal. I just think that some of the choices don't allow for the greatest understanding and appreciation of Hamlet. On the contrary Bragnagh's Henry V married epics and intimacy perfectly.
  • Branagh's Hamlet--both character and film--suffers from the same tendency that destroyed his Frankenstein: he simply goes overboard. When he's reined in, Branagh can turn in a fine performance, but too often he overacts, overdirects, overdoes generally, as here. I eagerly anticipated this Hamlet both as a reader and as a teacher, but discovered an overblown spectacle full of Hollywood-style excess, souped-up sex and violence, overpowering (and distracting) music, and performances that substitute volume for emotion.

    Branagh himself is the worst offender here, bellowing his "how all occasions do inform against me" soliloquy as if in competition with the soundtrack, hardly even pausing for breath, let alone for a glimpse of feeling. The most crushing disappointment is the crucial "to be or not to be" speech, again devoid of any sense of reflection or self-awareness, delivered in a hasty monotone for all the world as if Branagh was trying to spit it out quickly before he forgot it. This is not the world-class acting the text deserves; if not for the sheer spectacle and the impressive (i.e. famous) cast, this film would surely not be ranked as highly.

    Even the purportedly authentic screenplay makes several crucial interpretive choices for the viewer and completely rewrites the nature of Fortinbras's final entrance into Elsinore. The only bright points are Derek Jacobi, who offers some emotional complexity as Claudius, and a Gertrude who finally seems to have a backbone. The absence of the Oedipal interpretation is welcome, but this alone cannot place this disastrous film above the Mel Gibson version, which remains its superior. The volume of laudatory reviews for this foolish film depresses me--but at least it may bring some new readers to the play itself, which _does_ deserve this kind of admiration.
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