First, the high points (and there are many). By daring to film the entire (four hour!) production, Branagh has paid both Shakespeare and his audience the ultimate compliment. As Branagh's characters spelled out in his comic gem, "A Midwinter's Tale," cutting "Hamlet" from its full four-hour length to a two-plus hour length is one of the most difficult editorial processes you'll ever try, but everyone does it because nobody stays in their seats for four hours anymore. By telling the "whole story," Branagh fleshes out minor characters and provides more context for the story (for example, Claudius has a more precarious political position than many truncated versions depict, and his negotiations with Laertes become more important).
Branagh's Hamlet is a bright, dynamic individual, full of rage and yet stymied by his ability to see more than one side of the situation. (As has been pointed out by wiser folks than I, if Hamlet and Othello were transposed, there wouldn't be any plays! Othello would have murdered Claudius in the first act, and Hamlet would have seen through Iago's plotting and outsmarted him.) He's a product of his home, which is a surprisingly well-lit, semi-modern location -- most productions cast Elsinore as a fairly gloomy place.
Showing off a buffness that was not present in his earlier films (in "Henry V," Branagh is comparatively doughy), Branagh nails the part.Read more ›
I have a teen-age daughter who was struggling with English Lit. She hated reading (always had). She had to read various classics and was especially struggling with Hamlet. She could not understand it, but, plodded through it anyway. The cliff notes confused her. I came across this movie at the video rental place and decided to try it to see if it would help. After watching the video, she was so excited about the story of Hamlet that she immediately read it again, then watched the movie again. We both found the movie to be extremely true to the original writing. The greatest thing about this movie is that it gave my daughter the drive to read. FINALLY. I had given up on her ever being able to enjoy reading, now she would rather read than watch TV. I give all the credit to this movie. Now, if a movie comes out based on a book she always reads the book if she watches the movie.
The only criticism I have is that I WANT THIS ON DVD and it isn't available.