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Plot: Hamlet, son of the king of Denmark, is summoned home for his father's funeral and his mother's wedding to his uncle. In a supernatural episode, he discovers that his uncle, whom he hates anyway, murdered his father. In an incredibly convoluted plot--the most complicated and most interesting in all literature--he manages to (impossible to put this in exact order) feign (or perhaps not to feign) madness, murder the "prime minister," love and then unlove an innocent whom he drives to madness, plot and then unplot against the uncle, direct a play within a play, successfully conspire against the lives of two well-meaning friends, and finally take his revenge on the uncle, but only at the cost of almost every life on stage, including his own and his mother's. Runtime: 242 mins Release Date: 24 Dec 1996
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 <more>
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!
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 <more>
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.
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 <more>
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.
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. <more>
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. 8/10
Maybe the Milestone of Branagh's career. A great cast,in a shape of pure revival and directed by a genius of theatrical transposition,walks the "profane" through Shakespeare's masterpiece. A good Cut Version,a great LV for fanatics only . Dresses,dialogues,interpretation will surely bring you into one of the best revivals ever...you will cry,you will laugh,you will hate but,above all,you'll be moved by an eternal doubt...Is he crazy?Or he's not? It's up to you,to find out the truth. P.s.:Listen carefully the very first monologue,and you won't even remember <more>
"To be,or not to be..."The choice is between 2 1\2 hours,and 4 hours...even if you think it's too much,watch it,or you'll miss it.Fairy tales shouldn't end so sadly.The Bard would say "Bravo!"
As far as Branagh's Shakespeare film adaptations go, this is one of the better ones. I personally preferred Much Ado About Nothing 1993 , but Hamlet is one fine film.My only gripes are some of the cameos. Charlton Heston is good, but while it was nice to see Jack Lemmon he was too old I agree and Billy Crystal and Robin Williams come across as too modern and silly. Michael Maloney is okay but doesn't quite work appearance wise.Gripes aside, visually it is very striking. The settings are gorgeous, the costumes are equally exquisite and the cinematography is very skillful. The music <more>
score is a score of haunting, rousing and melancholic beauty, and enhances the film so well. The dialogue is still wonderful, and the story still has its emotional punch.The cast do a great job together. Kenneth Branagh directs with real vigour and does a fine job as Hamlet. Julie Christie is very good as Gertrude, Richard Briers is a good Polonious and Kate Winslet is a beautiful and poignant Orphelia. As the scheming villainous Claudius though, Derek Jacobi comes off best, his performance is brilliant.In conclusion, a fine adaptation and one of Branagh's better overall films. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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 <more>
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? .
A great adaption to a great show! (by samuraifa451)
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 <more>
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.
A good rendition, but lacking in "mood." (by Chessack)
This is a very good rendition of the play "Hamlet" -- and there are no scenes or lines cut rare, when Hollywood adapts Shakespeare . However, I found it less than perfect a surprise, given Branagh's other Shakespearian successes . I've always envisioned Hamlet as a "dark" and "dismal" play, and it's clear that's what Shakespeare intended. I found the sets too "light and airy" for Hamlet, and in particular, I found the climactic ending scene to be far too chaotic. The dialog was buried under clouds of running around up and down stairs, <more>
throwing things, swinging on chandeliers, etc -- and this is not, in my opinion, what Hamlet is supposed to be. Thus, while the acting is superb and the directing is good for most scenes, I thought this version really ruined the "mood" you expect from Hamlet. For all its flaws and cuts of the play, in my opinion, the Mel Gibson/Franco Zefferelli version of Hamlet is sets a much better mood than does this version. However, that said, the acting is absolutely top-rate, and the cast is wonderful. It's worth seeing; just don't expect the mood of it to be exactly what you anticipate from Hamlet.