76 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on 16 October 2007
Just as Branagh trumped Olivier's version of Henry V, so he does it again, this time producing the definitive screen Hamlet.
There are flaws, admittedly, so lets get them out of the way. There is some dodgy blue-screen work, and a couple of actors are, if we're honest, out of their depth (Jack Lemmon is a fine actor, but Shakespeare does not apparently come easy to him!).
Once you get past these minor quibbles however, you are left with one of the most sumptuous films ever shot. It just looks stunning, and makes the inexcusable wait for a dvd release almost worthwhile! The acting (for the most part!) is breathtaking. The famous scene with Hamlet and Gertrude in her bedroom is one of the most moving I've ever watched, Branagh stripping bare Hamlets grief as he sees his father's ghost. "On him, on him". Watch it and weep. The score is spot-on, the sets magnificent, and the script is well, the finest piece of work in English literature.
The finest film version of the greatest playwright's finest work. An unabashed masterpiece.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 1 February 2011
I already possess a VHS of this film, but I was tempted by the low price of this DVD set and by the extras. I am a great admirer of Kenneth Branagh's acting and directing, and his production of the complete version of "Hamlet" is a noble endeavour. It is beautifully filmed, and there is some stupendous acting from Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Kate Winslet and of course Branagh himself. I also enjoyed spotting well known faces in the cameo performances dotted throughout the play. I thought it was a brilliant idea to set the film in the 1870s, which did much to underline the stifling atmosphere of the Danish court and the pseudo-respectability of characters like Polonius and his Victorian obsession with decorum.
I have given the film a four-star instead of a five-star rating for the reason hinted at in the title: it simply is too rushed. Although it's possible to read the play in four hours, a complete acted version cannot be squeezed into this time frame without sacrificing some of its depth: "To be or not to be", for instance, was traversed at full gallop, and the general impression given was rather breathless. Hamlet's nature is contemplative, and he needs time to put his reflections across. Moreover, a film cannot be directed in the same way as a stage play: the best films convey much of their message through the medium of the image, and this often takes some time. Should Branagh have made some cuts in the text in order to slow the action down? I think not: he wanted to do something that had never been attempted before, and by all accounts this meant a great deal to him. Perhaps he should have made it even longer, at the risk of alienating viewers with short attention spans - but such viewers find a four-hour film too long in any case.
This being said - and although I found some of Branagh's clowning rather heavy-handed - many of the scenes were profoundly moving, particularly where he makes his first appearance: right from the start you see a man severely afflicted by depression. And the rendering of the "nunnery" scene, with its mix of violent emotions, was quite definitely the most powerful I have ever seen.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This is a Shakespeare play about the prince of Denmark and tragedy surrounding the family. Many people want to say the prince Hamlet is indecision yet he outmaneuvers just about everyone and has depth of vision. Now watch as Hamlet discovers who killed the king, his father, and how he attempts to get his revenge.
The only negative thing I could think of this Kenneth Branagh interpretation is the costume period is not what I was brought up on in the other versions and books. Jack Lemmon was sort of a distraction.
Now that being said, I never knew how good Hamlet could be until I saw the Kenneth Branagh version. For some reason I never noticed the missing dialog in the other versions until I was treated to the complete dialog in this version. The filled in parts give the story more meaning. Everyone else, even Hamlet (1948) with Laurence Olivier seems like the Readers digest version. I do not think you want to hear comparisons and contrasts of acting styles; so I will just say this film changed what would have been a nice story to actually feel that you are there.
Take caution before purchasing/downloading any rendition of Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet as there are some edited versions that may not be complete.
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on 2 October 2007
Any Shakespeare fan will not be disappointed! this full text 4 hour epic is exciting, funny, scary and a true work of art. Althoug 4 hours is a long running time I did not get bored once. The film is split between 2 DVDs, both containing extras. The extras are good but i'm always slightly disappointed when there are no outtakes...
I highly recommend this to even people who are not usually fans of shakespeare. The brilliant acting allows you to understand what is happening, even in a particular wordy scene. And Kenneth Branagh is fanyastic!!! watch it =)
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Hamlet is acknowledged as one of the greatest plays in Shakespeare's canon, if not THE greatest. Full of dense plot, character study, introspection, intrigue, supernatural elements and swordfights, it has everything. It's a great story, but Shakespeare's words, insights and language really lift it to the heights of greatness. Performed well it can be a riveting four hours.
I really have to take my hat off to Kenneth Brannagh for this superb production. First of all, just getting it off the ground must have been a major struggle - can you imagine going to a studio and asking for money to make a 4 hour film, all the characters speaking solely in 16th century English, and with such a dense and intricate story line following so many characters? It must have been a tough sell!
Having got the funding Brannagh then decided to use 65 mm film, an unusual choice these days. It proved to be a wise decision, and the photography has a feeling of breadth and depth that really matches the epic scope of the story.
This is a lavish and sumptuous film, which has the feeling of a no expenses spared production. The money spent was definitely worth it. It is a superb telling of Hamlet, a gripping visual feast from start to finish. There is a host of well known actors from both sides of the Atlantic. In the main they are well chosen and bring the characters to memorable life. Standouts are Brian Blessed as the Ghost of Hamlet's father - his controlled, whispered delivery is totally at odds with his usual bluff shouting style, and the more effective for it. Derek Jacobi excels as a particularly slimy Claudius, and Richard Briers is a revelation as Polonious - he is even better than Ian Holm in Franco Zephirelli's production a few years earlier.
The decision to make this a full text version was similarly brave and wise. I have seen Hamlet many times, each with its own cuts, so I have seen all of the play but not all in the same version. By using the full text you get the full complexity of the original story in all its glory, and it is all the better for it. I keep hoping that Brannagh will return to Shakespeare one day, I would love to see him take on Richard the Third, the Tempest or King Lear, both as director and actor.
This is an excellent DVD presentation of the film. In its proper aspect ratio, with a sympathetic 5.1 surround mix that lets both text and Patrick Doyle's magnificent score shine through, it is a stunning picture and sound quality. The film is split across two discs, which is a trifle annoying, but necessary for a film this long. The discs are both packed with a host of extras that really add to the set. It is a release that is really worthy of the film.
For anyone who loves epic, intelligent cinema this is an absolute must. 5 stars, I wish I could make it 6.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
What the screenwriter/director/actor Kenneth Branagh has done here is give us the full unabridged version of William Shakespeare's famous Danish Prince. It runs in at a staggering 232 minutes. On this 2-disc special edition, the film is shown on both discs which also contain special features which I admit I haven't seen yet.
As far as the film is concerned, it's a sprawling epic with gorgeous cinematography and lucious production design and it's directed with beautiful skill by Kenneth Branagh possibly Britain's best filmmaker of Shakespeare. With Branagh as Hamlet, joining him is a cast that's a who's who of international acting talent including Kate Winslet, Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Brian Blessed, Richard Briers, Charlton Heston, Jack Lemmon, Rufus Sewell, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Timothy Spall, John Gielgud, Judy Dench and Richard Attenborough among others.
I've seen this film a couple of times now, having first seen it 10 years ago on VHS video. I've waited that long for it to be available on DVD and now it's here where it belongs in my opinion. As far as I'm concerned, this is the definitive and most accessible version of Hamlet available. Kenneth Branagh has done the impossible. He's given us the full text and done it with style and passion making it look gorgeous and incredibly exciting. The impressive and sweeping score by Patrick Doyle is wonderful throughout and it's a great compliment to the film. One of the best epics I've seen.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 26 November 2007
Four hours of rhyming couplets is not everyone's idea of a fun Friday night in, but in truth you could watch this with the sound turned fully off and still be moved by its beauty and emotional punch.
Yes, it's a masterpiece - both Shakespeare's and Branagh's. Yes, it has an astonishing cast. Yes, the set design and cinematography are stunning and hauntingly memorable, but at the end of the day it's simply a great film of a great story told very well and acted in the most accessible and wonderful way.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet is not only the longest version (just under four hours, not counting the credits), but also the most sumptuous version of Shakespeare's great revenge tragedy on film. With exterior shots of Blenheim Palace, in Woodstock, England, and interiors designed to reflect the English baroque style of that massive country house, Branagh's Hamlet shows the king and prince of Denmark in an opulent, luxurious setting.
This Hamlet pulls out all the stops. Not only is the setting lavish, but the cast is full of recognizable names. In addition to Derek Jacobi as Claudius (Jacobi notably played Hamlet in the BBC's television version of the play, filmed in 1980), this film features Julie Christie as Gertrude, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, Michael Maloney as Laertes, Richard Briers as Polonius, and Nicholas Farrell as Horatio. The cast also includes such well-known actors as Robin Williams, Gérard Depardieu, Jack Lemmon, Billy Crystal, Rufus Sewell, Charlton Heston, Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, John Gielgud and Ken Dodd.
So, with big names and a big set, does this Hamlet work? First, you need to settle down for the long haul. At just under four hours, this is a long film. There is an intermission (at around 2:38), so if you can't plan to see the entire film in one sitting, you can split it at that point. Branagh based this film on a conflated version of the Hamlet text. (There is a book version of the Hamlet Screenplay, though it has no notes on the text. The best standard version is probably the Arden Shakespeare edition.) There are three main texts of Hamlet, the First Quarto of 1603, the Second Quarto of 1604, and the First Folio of 1623. There are a number of differences among the texts, and each one contains some lines that are not in the others. Branagh used all of the texts, rather than editing a specific version.
Branagh plays Hamlet splendidly, using the character's feigned (or real?) madness as a prop, and leveraging the luxurious sets and excellent actors. While there are some areas where you could call this film bombastic, it never quite goes over the top. Branagh is, at times, very moving (the graveyard scene), and a bit excessive (the play-within-the-play), but the overall impression is that of a character fully in control of his destiny, with no other option but to head toward his tragic end.
The cast is generally magnificent. Derek Jacobi is brilliant as Claudius, and Julie Christie is excellent as Gertrude, especially in the cabinet scene where she see's Hamlet's madness up close. Kate Winslet is sublime as Ophelia, and some of the smaller roles feature fine actors, such as Charlton Heston, Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, and John Gielgud.
One element that Branagh introduces that is not in the play is flashbacks. He shows Hamlet making love to Ophelia; Claudius killing King Hamlet; Yorick playing with young Hamlet; and a number of flashbacks and flash-presents of Fortinbras, particularly as his army is preparing to storm the castle. This makes the film much more cinematic, though it does alter the story a great deal. When reading the play, or seeing it on stage, it's clear that Hamlet is in love with Ophelia, but showing sexual relations lifts the veil on any ambiguity about their relationship, which isn't spelled out in the play. On the other hand, showing Claudius poisoning King Hamlet is simply an illustration of what the reader or spectator knows has happened, and serves as a counterpoint for the dumb show that precedes the play-within-the-play.
Some elements of the play are a bit excessive. Kate Winslet, as Ophelia, seen in a straitjacket and padded room, seems to be a bit too much. Billy Crystal's New York accent - he's one of the gravediggers - is out of place. And the final sword fight almost jumps the shark, as Branagh kills Claudius by throwing his sword, then swings from a chandelier.
But none of this detracts much from the overall impression one gets watching this version of Hamlet. This large-scale approach makes the story much bigger, and instead of the king and queen being the rulers of a handful of people (as is the case on stage), we see them in a more realistic environment. There are many ways to direct Hamlet, and this, a Hamlet of extremes, is the best example of one approach. You may prefer others; there are several on film. But if you like Hamlet, you probably won't be disappointed by this version.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
One of the main reasons for watching Kenneth Branagh's production of Hamlet is to see Derek Jacobi's remarkable portrayal of yet another Claudius--in this case the venomous usurper of Denmark's throne. Jacobi makes this often-forgettable part his own, to such an extent that he practically runs away with the show; and in Branagh's stellar cast, which includes Julie Christie as Gertrude, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, and Branagh as Hamlet, this is no mean feat. The dynamics between Claudius and Gertrude as their relationship subtly deteriorates during the course of the play are fascinating. Far from being one-dimensional, Jacobi's portrayal of Claudius is as vital as it is nuanced, and one finds oneself waiting for his entrance with great anticipation.
Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare productions are always innovative in respect to interpretation, settings, and cast. For example, he makes the subtext of the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia explicit in such a way that elucidates the rather salty lyrics of the songs in her mad scene. Most of Branagh's innovations work in this production with its opulent Edwardian costumes and mirrored sets, which make use of the exterior of Blenheim Palace as a background. While the manufactured snow sets a wintry mood for Shakespeare's metaphor for the sickness of the State, one must suspend one's disbelief when it comes to Ophelia's drowning with "fantastic garlands . . . of crow-flowers nettles, daisies" and other "weedy trophies," since Shakespeare's "weeping brook" as Branagh presents the mise-en-scene would have been frozen solid (But in an otherwise excellent production, who cares about such picky details?). One wonders, however, whether the rose-petals with which Branagh showers the actors in the court scene, as well as in "Much Ado About Nothing" and "As You Like It," are to be regarded as a signature, or as a cliche? The third time around, they are no longer an innovation. And although the swinging chandelier in the fencing scene seems rather Zorro-ish, since the scene calls for spectacle, why not?
Branagh always takes chances in his casting, and in most cases in "Hamlet", they pay off. Billy Crystal plays a delightful comic-relief gravedigger along with Simon Russell Beale (aka George Smiley), and Robin Williams in his role as Osric serves a similar purpose in relieving the tension before the duel; Rosemary Harris and Charlton Heston are convincing as the player Queen and King; and Jack Lemmon's appearance as a guard is charitably short. Richard Attenborough brings outstanding dignity to his brief appearance as the British Ambassador, and I was blown away by the glimpse of Judy Dench as the grief-stricken Hecuba and John Gielgud as the dying Priam in the vignette about the Trojan War. Branagh's imaginative use of sundry theatrical luminaries both contributes texture to the play and adds interest to what might otherwise be a very long evening, since he presents Shakespeare's play almost in its entirety.
The diction of the actors is superb, and the English subtitles ensure that every word of Shakespeare's text in this two disc-production will be understood. There is a lot to enjoy in Kenneth Branagh's highly inventive production of "Hamlet: Prince of Denmark."
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 10 May 2002
Here's a film to take your breath away. Branagh is outstanding in the lead and has gathered a star cast to make a visually stunning and beautifully realised interpretation of Shakespeare that will appeal to today's audience. How tragic that this, the full version, is no longer available and the only video now on the market is a horribly butchered travesty that contains only half the original footage.