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4.5 out of 5 stars66
4.5 out of 5 stars
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It was about twenty years ago that I turned on my television idly one evening to find that a showing of Hamlet had just started. I was instantly transfixed and not just because this is my favourite play of all plays, but because I was looking at my absolute idea of what a Prince Hamlet should look like. It was another two hours before I found who was in the title role, but throughout that two hours I watched the action and listened to the dialogue and monologues acted and spoken by as perfect a piece of casting as I think I have ever yet seen.

Let me say that I have seen Olivier's Hamlet and I have seen Branagh's Hamlet and that I hugely enjoyed them both. I am not greatly concerned in this notice to weigh up niceties of interpretation and direction, because there are enough subtleties and possibilities in this great play to allow full scope for the individual style of every great actor for another thousand years. The literary criticism trade, profession or industry, though it has not yet talked Hamlet to death, has been trying hard to do that, and I would not like to be, without intending it, the straw that broke that camel's back. What puts this production in a class of its own for me is simply that for me Gibson IS Hamlet whereas Olivier and Branagh are acting Hamlet, albeit superbly. The blond fringe and the smallish physique are right for a start, in my mind. Then there is the understated style, the diction quiet, the mood brooding and smouldering. That is my idea of how to do the great soliloquies, not declaiming them, and when the repressed tension is abruptly released as, say, when Hamlet runs his sword through the arras, the contrast is all the more effective and does not require histrionics. Does Olivier perhaps over-act a bit? To my way of thinking he nearly always does, and in Hamlet his final `then venom to thy weh-eh-eh-eh-eh-rk!' definitely goes over the top even if nothing else does.

The supporting cast have won high praise, and I shall join in that too. Perhaps no other play by Shakespeare, unless maybe Coriolanus, is quite so dominated by its lead role as is Hamlet. Nevertheless the best Hamlet in the world could be undone if Claudius or Gertrude or Polonius or Ophelia or Laertes were not up to scratch, whereas if he has the kind of `support' provided here a performance that is already superb seems better than ever. One feature of the production, attributable to both the acting and the directing, struck me forcibly this time in a way it had not struck me before, and it relates to the character of Claudius. Up until the play-within-the-play his sang-froid is remarkable considering the primal crime he has committed, and even though his guilty conscience comes to the surface in the chapel, he carries his burden lightly, to all appearances. The play-within drives him to further desperate stratagems, but what came across to me was just how cool and inventive he remained. He tries to have Hamlet executed in England, and when that fails he arranges for not one but two types of poison to ensure the outcome of Hamlet's duel. Most strikingly of all, when Gertrude drinks the poisoned goblet he still controls his reaction to avoid giving himself away. Iago impressed Goethe enough to serve as the prototype of Goethe's Mephistopheles, but Iago's actions were small beer compared with this, and his planning was nowhere near as clever. Iago has had more attention from the commentators because he shares more of the limelight, but at the end of Othello he runs away as if Shakespeare did not even think him worth killing. Claudius may have deserved everything that Hamlet called him, but his defects did not include lack of quick thinking or want of nerve.

The production, but for the fact that this is a slightly abridged Hamlet, suits me admirably. The camera work and lighting are superb, and there are some excellent little vignettes, such as the terror of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being brought to their executioner. In keeping with Gibson's reading of the title role, the `effects' are less highlighted here than from Branagh, and much less than from Olivier. The ghost is not melodramatic, and significantly the background music is kept within bounds of tolerance. It is a sad pity that William Walton, whose music accompanies the Olivier production, had on the one hand exceptional talent for such music but lacked the experience to know when he was overdoing things. I did not manage to spot what castle was used. It may have been in Scotland, and certainly the scene at the graveside could almost have been from Braveheart. As some will know, the real castle of the real Amled does not beetle o'er any crags, and the Bard's Elsinore is much more imposing than real-life Helsingor, but the Bard's is the concept that we need, and it is what we are offered.

Right at the start we are told that what we are about to see is `based on the play by William Shakespeare'. There are no major liberties, and what we are given is a bit of an abridgement. Hamlet is not a tightly-plotted drama, and I am not unduly upset by what Zeffirelli has done. The opening scene with the night-watchmen is skipped, and at the end Fortinbras is dispensed with. Neither of these acts of pruning bothered me, although I regretted the loss of occasional bits of dialogue from this most quotation-replete of plays. Of all plays that I have ever seen or read it remains my favourite, indeed this production reinforces its primacy. I can't say, as Mr Clive James has said, that it is the best play in the world because I don't know all the plays in the world, but surely it must be a candidate for that honour.
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VINE VOICEon 16 February 2006
With casting Mel Gibson as lead, this film was always going to attract a type of movie goer that would probably not normally see a Shakespeare production. Hence it's no suprise that we don't have 100% theatrical authenticity here, it is perhaps (or was at the time) a suprise to see just how good Gibson's performance is. Intense and broody, it manages to convey the confusion of a mind being torn apart by fate in a way that is more convincing and watchable than Branagh's. The whole film is entertaining while still managing to bring something new to the much feasted upon Shakespearean table, just what every film adaptation of the bard's works should try to do.
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on 22 October 2002
This is a Hamlet that is easy on the eyes and the mind...if you don't have the time and stamina for Branagh's 4 hour version, and would like one a little more updated than Olivier's exquisite '48 film, this is the one for you !
It's by far my favourite Hamlet on film.
Mel Gibson is excellent as Hamlet. He gives him humour and masculine vigor, and the top-notch supporting cast is superb. I especially like Alan Bates...his lusty, murderous king is fabulous...and mention should be made of Nathaniel Parker's wonderful Laertes.
David Watkin's cinematography is stunning, Ennio Morricone's score subtle and beautiful, and the production is one of Zeffirelli's best.
This is very enjoyable Shakespeare, even for those who don't normally like him...and I highly recommend this film to parents who would like to introduce their teenagers to the Bard.
Don't miss this glorious film !!
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on 2 February 2006
First of all, what there is of this version of Hamlet is first class. Mel Gibson proves a warm, likeable, and surpisingly convincing lead. Helena Bonham Carter and Ian Holm live up to their billing is two of the leading actors of their respective generations. The settings are atmospheric and superb and Old Hamlet stares with eyes of infinite sadness. Best of all is the scene between Hamlet and Gertrude, as Hamlet throttles her with a pendant of the king. There are subtle undertones in this scene, directed with Zefirelli's customary flair. It is well worth seeing: in every respect it is a fascinating production. Except: this is so heavily edited that it loses so much of Shakespeare's nuances of language. Shakespeare is so much more than just plot - most of those were not his own, and Hamlet is no exception to that. If all Hamlet were was a story about a man who eventually avenged his father, it would be unremarkable. To cut so much is to give the play a rushed and sketchy appearance, as if the director is trying to provide excuses for Shakespeare's language, rather than revelling in it and presenting it as it is, almost unparalled as a dramatic artform at that particular point in history. This, I think, is a shame. Branagh's version is embarassingly bad at times, and nobody has ever fully explained to me why he chose to put it in some hinterland between its Medieval setting and a modern equivalence. However, one thing that Branagh is not afraid of: the words. All of them are there. A shame that they weren't in this version.
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on 7 December 2010
It may not stick completely to the original play but it really couldn't be a better translation into film. I am a big fan of Shakespeare, I studied this play inside out and despite not being entirely accurate, it includes everything needed to portray the depth of character, drama and despair everyone loves about this play. Mel Gibson is perfect as Hamlet, watch and enjoy :)
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On the surface, one might reasonably conclude that Mel Gibson and Glenn Close starring in Hamlet may be some kind of joke, a parody of the Shakespeare play, but there is no joke. This movie is for real and both Mr. Gibson and Ms. Close give commanding performances in their respective roles. This movie is proof that when given quality material under excellent direction, talented actors will flourish. The rest of the cast is stellar too, but this movie squarely revolves around the two lead characters and if their performances fail, then the whole movie fails. In recent years, Mel Gibson's reputation has taken hits, but there can be no denying that he is a gifted actor and in this movie presents a novel, dynamic interpretation of Hamlet that brings new life to the character, transforming a brooding young man into a man of action who takes charge and pays the price, wherein lays the tragedy. For Hamlet is a tragedy. However, unlike previous renditions of the play, which focus on the murky and somber, this rendition is lit up, the characters are active, Gertrude is young and beautiful, all of which make the ending even more provocative and powerful. This movie should have been nominated for an Academy Award in every major category; that it wasn't is perplexing. All in all, this movie represents another triumph for Franco Zefirrelli, once again who proves that Shakespeare can be produced for the screen, if you do it right.
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on 25 June 2012
This is one of the very best `Hamlets'! Its clarity of vision is matched by the poignancy and immediacy of emotion. The `Oedipal' theme dominates, with Glenn Close as an irresistible seductress. Mel Gibson conveys the unutterable loneliness, as well as the rage of Hamlet - that tragic hero of never ending deliberation.
Far too many contemporary (ultimately mediocre) directors try to `improve' on this play of plays, while Zeffirelli remains faithful to its spirit and deeply respectful of Shakespeare.
I saw this film more than 20 years ago, and then again quite recently. It has only risen in my estimation on second viewing.
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on 9 January 2006
Firstly - a review of themis_athena's review - five stars: well written, well done. (Sorry I couldn't write that in Will's style, but it's late and I'm tired...)
Secondly, a review of this version of Hamlet. It was probably this film that helped me to understand the play a little better. The lines are well delivered with understandable expression rather than just 'rattled off' - perhaps giving the unexperienced viewer a chance to appreciate what is being said rather than their tired brain eventually glossing over it all as just words (words...words...). I've previously studied other Shakespeare plays, but I remember (when the film was released in the cinemas) a couple of work colleages - who I think initially went to the cinema to 'look at Mel' if truth be known - remarked how they were pleasantly surprised to have actually enjoyed the play in it's own right because they understood it, having always thought Shakespeare was 'difficult'. (Apologies for that extreeeeemely long sentence). Having said that, it's not 'Shakespeare for Idiots', and it's just a pity so much was cut out (and I seem to think Mel Gibson would agree). The only downside is that I think Helena Bonhan-Carter's Ophelia is lacking something - she seems to be 'off her trolley' right from the start, but maybe my interpretation is just different to Zeffirelli's. Indeed, I think the perfect Hamlet film would be to take Kate Winslet's Ophelia out of the Kenneth Branagh one and put her into this movie, and put missing scenes back in. I think there's probably a lot of 'Shakespeare-ites' who frown on the fact that this movie stars a Hollywood celebrity, but Mel Gibson is a brilliant actor - as is proved here - and gives more to this movie than just someone for us ladies to enjoy looking at (that's an added bonus!!!!).
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on 16 April 2007
Purists of English literature would perhaps discredit this masterpiece of a film for its manipulation, and somewhat removal, of some scenes from Shakespeare's great revenge tragedy. However, the amazing acting from this all-star cast and the excellecent setting and realism of the film more than compensates. Highlights include the scenes demonstrating Ophelia's madness, a fantastically Freudian interpretation of the famous III.iv scene between Hamlet and Gertrude, and the breath-taking final scene. Credit must also be given for their ability to caputre the realism of Hamlet's many soliloquies and the Ghost as an Elizabethan audience would have seen it.The greatest interpretation of Shakespeare on this silver screen? My only criticism is the lack of any extra features on the DVD, hence only 4/5 stars.
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on 29 June 2003
Mel Gibson plays the Dane in this Franco Zeffireli film. With its running time only a little over two hours this cinematic interpretation does not include the entire text.
I would argue that there has never been a truly definitive cinematic Hamlet with each interpretation having merits and weaknesses. This version of Hamlet does not alter the plays setting, in that the story takes place in a Danish castle. If anything the setting appears a little dull, with the ghost scene loosing out to the Lawrence Olivia version in terms of spectacle. In fact the film does not take much advantage of the film medium and as a result it feels very theatrical.
However Gibsons' Hamlet is one of the most favourable on film. Gibsons' Hamlet is more raw and masculine than Oliviers’ and more colourful than Keneth Branaghs'. Though his Hamlet is not a revelation he is well equipped to bring a visceral confidence to the role. In short he makes the part his own.
This also has the added advantage of having Glenn Close as a superb Gertrude and Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia. All in all this was a decent attempt at putting Hamlet on the big screen. So if you are learning or teaching English lit. or just want to see the Shakespeare on film you could truly do worse.
However, the best cinematic Hamlet this could be but on video it faces stiffer competition in the form of the animated version.
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