It's the greatest work of literature, but nobody had ever filmed Hamlet
uncut--until Kenneth Branagh went about the task for his lavish 1996 production. The result is a sumptuous, star-studded version that scores a palpable hit on its avowed goal: to make the text as clear and urgent as possible. Branagh himself plays the melancholy son of the Danish court, caught in a famous muddle about whether to seek revenge against his royal father's presumed slayer... the man who now sits on the throne and shares the bed of Hamlet's mother. (Or, as the song "That's Entertainment" summarizes the plot: "A ghost and a prince meet / And everyone winds up mincemeat.") As a director, Branagh (who shot the movie in 70 mm.) uses the vast, cold interiors of a vaguely 19th-century manor to gorgeous effect; the story might scurry down this hallway, into that back chamber, or sprawl out into the enormous main room. With its endless collection of mirrors, the place is as big and empty as Citizen Kane's Xanadu.
That all works. What doesn't work is Branagh's tendency to over-direct the big dramatic moments. He indulges in quick cutting and flashbacks as though to fend off the audience's objections to the four-hour running time, and the style sometimes looks like wasted energy. The experienced Shakespearians in the cast come off nicely. Derek Jacobi's Claudius, Richard Briers' Polonius, and Michael Maloney's Laertes are just terrific. Julie Christie is a suitably attractive Gertrude, and Kate Winslet makes the most of Ophelia's mad scenes. Branagh's habit of folding in unexpected American performers is on the mark, too: Billy Crystal is surprisingly good as the Gravedigger, Robin Williams predictably camps up Osric, and Charlton Heston is an inspired choice as the grandiloquent Player King. The biggest irony here is that Branagh himself is not quite spot-on as Hamlet. Of course he speaks the lines beautifully, but Branagh's screen personality radiates certainty and clarity of vision. There's little of the doubt that might make him Hamlet-esque. Still, tremendous credit for fending off slings and arrows to get the movie made. --Robert Horton
Kenneth Branagh's four-hour production of Shakespeare's full text for Hamlet is visually lush (shot in 70mm, which is rarely done) and full of fascinating story moments that normally get cut from shorter stage versions. (Your idea of what kind of fellow Polonius is may change quite a bit.) The unexpurgated approach is truly enlightening, and Branagh intermittently succeeds at giving familiar moments in the drama an original cinematic spin, including Hamlet's spooky confrontation with his father's ghost (Brian Blessed). (Branagh also imposes some Hollywood glitter on the proceedings by casting the likes of Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Charlton Heston and Jack Lemmon in the smaller parts.) The pre-Titanic Kate Winslet is very good as the doomed Ophelia, and Derek Jacobi delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance as Claudius, whose character is definitely filled out by the restored material. Branagh's own performance is a little revisionist--some viewers have quibbled with it while others seem fine. --Tom Keogh. Langages avialabel on the dvd are: English,Castillian Spanish,German,Polish & Portuguese,Subtitles: English,C/Spanish,German,Greek,Polish & Portuguese.Extra features including introductions/commentary by Kenneth Branagh & Russell Jackson,'Featurette,Film promo,Shakespeare movie trailor gallery.