20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Adaptation; Brit Cast Generally Outdoes American Cast
"Hamlet" is obviously the gold standard for actors -- pull off the melancholy Dane, and you've just about reached the top of your craft. Kenneth Branagh's turn as everyone's favorite soliloquist is an ambitious, bold, wonderful film that just misses the mark.
First, the high points (and there are many). By daring to film the entire (four hour!) production,...
Published on June 16 2004 by Scott Schiefelbein
3.0 out of 5 stars Ken Russell does Shakespeare
Kenneth Branagh, in trying to set his Hamlet apart, creates a spectacle that belittles the drama of our favorite prince. From the inundation of flower petals to the mirrored court(and Branagh's dyed hair), this is over the top. While acting, or really just making speeches, Branagh never forgets he is a movie star, and doesn't become the character. It's a different take on...
Published on Jan. 7 2003 by Peanut Butter
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Adaptation; Brit Cast Generally Outdoes American Cast,
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. From his sheepish realization that he is overcoaching the players to his anguish over his realized inaction to his manipulation of Ophelia (a suitably tortured Kate Winslet), Branagh hits all the right notes and even pulls off the difficult fencing scene with Laertes. The rest of the British cast (Branagh veterans for the most part, including Derek Jacobi as Claudius -- Jacobi was considered the leading "Hamlet" of his era) is excellent. Watch for a nice Ghost scene -- the Ghost's fury and torment and Hamlet's horrified recognition that the Ghost is confirming his worst fears more than makes up for some second-rate special effects.
The look of the film is tremendous. Shot in 70mm (giving a richer, wider picture), "Hamlet" gives us a sprawling Elsinore Castle filled with a wonderfully dressed royalty. The centerpiece of Elsinore is an ingenious throne room filled with mirrors, conveniently allowing for spying under plausible circumstances for key scenes. But other scenes also appropriately take place in back rooms and on the edges of the domain. This is definitely a kingdom worth killing for (as is Gertrude, played by the perpetually ravishing Julie Christie).
"Hamlet" forces the director to make choices. Branagh has chosen to make Hamlet confrontational -- many of his lines that could be whispered asides to the audience are instead full-fledged roars to all and sundry. Some might quibble -- it worked for me.
There are only two weaknesses in the film. First, is the general weakness of the American cast. It's a sad fact that not every great actor is a great Shakespearean actor, and in an apparent attempt to make "Hamlet" more accessible by bringing in well-known Americans, some jarring results occur. Jack Lemmon, God bless him, sounds completely out of his depth in his cameo. Robin Williams, who has the acting chops to play Shakespeare, inexplicably makes his brief role as Osric as mincing as one of his stand-up comic homosexuality riffs. Billy Crystal acquits himself fairly well as the First Gravedigger by showing the restraint Williams eschews. The only American who triumphs in a cameo performance is Charlton Heston, who inhabits the role of the Player King with a nice balance of pomposity and humility.
By comparison, the Brits who have minor roles (including Sir John Gielgud as Priam, Sir Richard Attenborough as the English Ambassador, and Rufus Sewell as Fortinbras) show how the Shakespearean game is played, even in small roles.
The only other problem I had with the film is Hamlet's exit -- the Christ imagery was just too darn over the top. We're several decades removed from such obvious imagery (it may have worked for Paul Newman in "The Left Handed Gun," but now it provokes only rolling eyeballs).
"Hamlet" is truly a magnificent attempt to tell Shakespeare's most famous tale. Standing ovations to Branagh and friends for even attempting this unabridged version -- this was truly daring. I have not seen a better film adaptation of "Hamlet." The fact that it doesn't quite work to 5-star level (unlike, say, Ian McKellen's "Richard III") is no criticism whatsoever.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent teaching tool,
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful version of Hamlet,
This review is from: Hamlet (DVD)I admire Branaugh's boldness in making a completely uncut version of Hamlet at four hours long. This may be too long for some viewers, but I am a bard addict, so it works for me! This seems to be a controversial version of the film in that people either seem to love it or hate it. Count me among one of those who loves it.
Branaugh captures the complexities of Hamlet's character. He acts melancholy, manic, angry, and witty at all the right moments (in my opinion).
Some have criticized Kate Winslet as Ophelia, but I think she does a suprisingly good job. She really looks and sounds emotionally broken in her "mad" scenes.
I also really liked the choice of a vibrant and beautiful Elsinore. I think it represents the hypocrisy of Claudius, charming and attractive on the outside but corrupt and rotten on the inside. Not everything that is corrupt and dark in this world necessarily looks that way in terms of appearences.
Most importantly, this movie moved me: it struck my emotional nerves. I was saddened when Gertrude reported Ophelia's drowning, I laughed at Hamlet and the gravedigger's witty jokes, and I was angered by Claudius' machinations. When a movie, through the actors, is able to move me on an emotional level, I definitely admire it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Hamlet...the whole play!,
This review is from: Hamlet (DVD)As a thighschool eacher of literature, I have several video versions of Shakespeare's Hamlet. This is the only one that follows the play, word for word. It's also a feast for the eyes!
5.0 out of 5 stars Hamlet review,
This review is from: Hamlet (DVD)It's the complete script, with well-known actors and a more or less traditional interpretation. An excellent version for students to watch.
5.0 out of 5 stars HAMLET as it should be seen!,
This review is from: Hamlet (DVD)This DVD is an absolutely brilliant adaption of Shakespeare's Hamlet. An unabridged version it is superbly acted by a wonderful cast, and stars as well as being directed by Kenneth Branagh. Worth every minute!!!
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite Shakespeare film,
This review is from: Hamlet (DVD)This is my personal favourite of the various Shakespeare films I've seen, and in my view is Branaugh's best acting performance (although his role as Iago is a close second). Indeed, it would be difficult to think of a single disappointing performance in the film. Something that's not noted often, but that I think lends a lot to the film, is the soundtrack, which is excellent. The final scene, involving the fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes, the poisoning of the queen, etc. is perhaps a little overdone in places, although without harming much the close of the film. Overall, extremely well done.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Film,
Although 4 hours in length (mainly because every word in the play is inserted in the script), the stunning effect of the play is extraordinary. The backdrop for the ghost of Hamlet in the opening scene, the mirror used when Hamlet (Branaugh) is making his "To be or not to be" soliloquy, the palace in which Hamlet and Laertes fight, and the snowy landscape in which Fortenbras and his men arrive are all instances of using scenery and directing to update this version of the play.
Although the setting and interpretation of what Shakespeare intended are left in doubt, the movie itself is visually stunning and the acting is great. Although Branaugh hired a few American actors to take on some of Shakespeare's characters (for instance, Robin Williams plays Osric and Billy Crystal plays one of the gravediggers), there "American" accents are hardly noticed in the film.
As an educator, I also think this is a fantastic version to use as a resource for a study of the play. Because the dialogue is accurate to the play, it works well. Also, this version seemingly makes the work of Shakespeare easier to understand. (Although, as a warning, there is one scene with Winslet (Ophelia) and Branaugh (Hamlet) that is definitely "adult" in nature).
Overall, a great gamble by Branaugh to update Shakespeare's work into his own insight. There is also a few extras on the VHS version: interviews with many of the cast members as well as a behind the scenes about the movie.
Also recommended: Hamlet (Mel Gibson version)
4.0 out of 5 stars Good.,
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant,
There are things in this version I object to--most especially the handling of the duel and bloodbath at the end. It is over the top and physically unbelievable, detracting somewhat from the viewer's ability to feel for the characters involved. But having said that, all-in-all (and "all" of Hamlet is a lot!), this is the best production I have ever seen: complete,in the proper order, with excellent performances by Branagh and Winslet and ESPECIALLY Derek Jacobi as Claudius. When Claudius makes sense, the play makes sense, and while I have other favorite Hamlets and Ophelias and Polonius', there has NEVER been a Claudius so brilliantly portrayed. The production values are brilliant, the music fine, and the overall representation of Shakespeare's most haunting work unequaled.
So where is the DVD?!?!?
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Hamlet by Kenneth Branagh (DVD - 2007)
CDN$ 31.98 CDN$ 13.99