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Hamlet Movie Review

branagh kenneth derek play

1996 – Kenneth Branagh –

Shakespeare's tragedy of the Danish prince (Kenneth Branagh) who is visited by his father's ghost (Brian Blessed) and learns that his uncle (Derek Jacobi) killed him is performed with an uncut text—all 3,906 lines of it. In contrast, Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 version with Mel Gibson retained only 37% of the original text. It's not just the full text that gives the play an epic scope. Branagh also filmed the interiors on the largest sound stage at Shepperton Studios in England, and he makes great use of these large spaces in the opening scene at court and in the final sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes (Michael Maloney). The mirrored doors lining the sides of the expansive foyer create the illusion of even greater spaces.

Such spectacle balances the moments when the film uses the labyrinthine corridors behind these doors to dramatize the dissembling so pervasive to the play. Behind one of them is the padded room where Ophelia (Kate Winslet) is confined after going mad from grief at the death of her father. The scene before the intermission (featuring the speech “How all occasions do inform against me”) is the film's greatest attempt to impart the physicality of an epic scope to the materials. As Hamlet explains how the sight of the Norwegian army marching off to fight for a worthless patch of ground spurs him on to take revenge, the camera pulls back to reveal an enormous stretch of soldiers behind Hamlet filling the wide dimensions of the 70mm screen accompanied by Patrick Doyle's rousing music. (The process photography looks a bit fuzzy in spots in what is obviously a matte shot.)

Branagh's acting may risk overdoing some speeches, and his direction sometimes uses spinning camera moves in fussy, disorienting ways. His chief contribution may be the overall concept of the play, which stresses the gap between Hamlet's encounter with proof of a life beyond this one and the selfish absorption in worldly pleasures indulged in by king and court. The major performances are subtle and effective, especially Derek Jacobi, whose rich voice registers the blank verse most sharply. His nuanced work presents Claudius as a personality pieced together from a gallery of momentary disguises: politician, king, murderer, lover, drinker, schemer. Under them all sweats the worried sinner who wants to repent of his murder but who loves too much the fruits of his sins.

Cast: Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet), Derek Jacobi (Claudius), Richard Briers (Polonius), Julie Christie (Gertrude), Kate Winslet (Ophelia), Michael Maloney (Laertes), Nicholas Farrell (Horatio), Brian Blessed (Ghost), Timothy Spall (Rosencrantz), Reece Dinsdale (Guildenstern), Billy Crystal (First Gravedigger), Simon Russel Beale (Second Gravedigger), Robin Williams (Osric), Gerard Depardieu (Reynaldo), Jack Lemmon (Marcellus), Charlton Heston (Player King), Rosemary Harris (Player Queen), Ian McElhinney (Bernardo), Ray Fearon (Francisco), Rufus Sewell (Fortinbras), Richard Attenborough (English Ambassador), John Gielgud (Priam), John Mills (Old Norway), Judi Dench (Hecuba), Ken Dodd (Yorick), Melanie Ramsay (Prostitute) Screenwriter: Kenneth Branagh (from Shakespeare) Cinematographer: Alex Thomson Composer: Patrick Doyle Producer: David Barron for Castle Rock Entertainment and Fishmonger Films; released by Columbia and Sony MPAA Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 242 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1996: Nominations: Adapted Screenplay (Kenneth Branagh), Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Dramatic Score (Patrick Doyle) Box Office: $582,904.

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