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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Hamlet (Two-Disc Special Edition) [DVD] [1996]
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Showing 1-9 of 9 reviews(2 star). See all 161 reviews
on 25 April 2014
Having read Branagh's introduction to the screenplay, I see with what love and knowledge he brings this to the screen. There's so much snobbery around Shakespeare, as if his work cannot be criticised and anyone who does so much be of little understanding. No-one is above reproof, and if holy books are critiqued, surely secular works can be?

My remarks are on this as a film. It is far too much like an opulent filmed play, and cinema and filmed theatre are not the same. The whispering of the RSC that I find so cloying on stage is even worse in a film, except for the few times that characters would really whisper (eg Hamlet near the graveside, not wanting to be heard by the group who's just entered). We often hear what we could see - and in the theatre where impending battalions or outdoor drowning would be difficult, one understands the choice to have it explained, not shown; but it felt odd to have Ophelia's death told entirely by her would be mother in law, wonderfully delivered as it is, and only the slightest glimpse of the image of famous paintings (ie Ophelia in the water).

There are a couple of exceptions - Fortinbras's army and Ophelia and Hamlet being lovers - where imagery adds insight and make the speeches effectively voiceovers.

The dialogue otherwise feels relentless; and the acting, although heartfelt and no doubt with great craft and understanding, felt overegged and entirely wrong for the cinema. Hamlet himself sometimes feels that he's acting against or obliviously to those around him - literal over or out acting. It's often sexist, with violent or controlling gestures towards women (and smaller male parts, such as grabbing their faces and arms and flinging them against walls and mirrors).

I'd like to single out Julie Christie and Kate Winslet, who manage to make their speeches sound more naturalised, as if if this poetic, antiquated language is what their characters would really say. On every other lips, it felt laboured.

I wondered if there are missing scenes around Ophelia's madness, as she seems to scream over her murdered father (understandably) and then be in a padded cell and then dying all too quickly, and her arc feels as if a large chunk of curve is missing, like a mismatched mosaic tile.

Although Kenneth says that before he really understood Shakespeare, he thrilled at the story when performed; I did not share this - a violent, vengeful end (for most of the remaining cast) is not my idea of a satisfying or exciting denouement.

Packed with most English 'quality' actors of the time (and a couple of foreign ones), it felt over filled, and it's strange that Billy Crystal and Robin Williams are credited on the cover but Brian Blessed and Richard Briars (who plays a longer part) are not.

I had little pleasure at this, although I tried my best to engage, apart from charting Kate Winslet's career progressing.

Just because it's the bard doesn't mean his work must be untouched when translated - the point is that no medium slips exactly from one to the other. It's not the length but that this feels more like the live satellite broadcasts to cinemas than an actual film.
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on 22 February 2006
This item is not the complete 4 hours version, contrarily to what the Amazon.co.uk review may lead you to believe, but a 2 hours version. It is not bad, but a big letdown if you're expecting as I was for the complete movie.
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on 13 December 2014
Well OTT. I had to turn it off before the first disc finished, It began to craze me. Wrong period. I could go on.
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on 14 July 2011
As someone who endured this on the big screen I feel I 'paid the price' for this review. The setting in the late 19th Century did little to enhance the entertainment or draw forth meaning from a play, which was onviously set no later than the 16th century. Some of the supporting actors were execrable. Jack Lemon offers up pure ham and if I hadn't know otherwise I would have thought he was an amateur. Billy Crystal was desperately aweful in the grave scene! I just wish Derek Jacobi had been young enough to have played Hamlet, and save us Branaugh's heartfelt whispers.

The stars for me are undoubtedly Jacobi as Claudius and Charlton Heston playing the lead player, (Heston is superb and spellbinding).

I have to say that Zeffirelli's heavily edited Hamlet with Mel Gibson is far superior to this pretentious 3 hour vehicle for Branaugh. I wish Zefirelli had directed a three hour version. If you want a better version of the full text buy the BBC Shakespeare set with Jacobi (although Patrick Stewart is a lack lustre Claudius).
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on 1 April 2003
Oh dear what a disappointment. I could (just about) have believed Jack Lemmon as a 75 year old soldier, I could have almost stomached the sight of Ken Dodd as Yorick (but what was wrong with letting us use our imaginations instead?), and I could even have got over the "most obvious use of blue screen ever" moment and the soap powder snow if I hadn't had to listen to Ken Bran-aarrgghh's flat voice and histronic ramblings for 4 solid hours. Never has Shakespeare sounded so dull and ordinary - shome mishtake shurely?
Furthermore the boy blunder's desire to flag up every major theory that's been written about Hamlet left him without any clear point of view about the play...and we were left darkling.
2 stars for the restored language that Olivier left out of his version...but give me Larry's great film any day.
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on 21 December 2001
After seeing Warner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, the story of an Irishman (played by Klaus Kinski) sailing to an unclaimed piece of land in South America, I was surprised at how much Herzog's film relied on Klaus Kinski's performance to carry its three hours - as opposed to letting the camera drift over the attractive environment - and how Kinski provided this performance, never letting anything else be the focal point of the film: after all, he *was* the title characer. The problem with Brannagh's Hamlet is that Brannagh does not provide such a performance - to be cruel and concise "since brevity is the soul of wit", he plays Hamlet's madness like Jim Carrey would - and Hamlet's contemplation like... an actor reading Hamlet and trying very hard to sound serious and enunciate clearly. Except that when he's mad, he tries to saythewordsasfastaspossiblewhichmakesitallhardtounderstand. Brannagh tries to balance this by making his background exciting and majestic, to the point where it literally hurts the eyes to watch over an hour at a time, and the dial often goes all the way up to 'overblown' (Ophelia's first mad scene with the straight jacket comes to mind as lacking a real sense of empathy with the character, lost in the halls of Blenheim Palace). Maybe if Brannagh had decided that - gasp! - an edited version of the text would suffice, he could have played the film and his character properly without resorting to emergency keeping-the-audience-awake measures such as dramatising pretty much everything (the first meeting with the ghost, for example) and making the screen as colourful as possible (I never thought Hamlet was a colourful play myself..). After all, on cinematic judgement day, when the great Hamlet adaptation comparison is made, Brannagh's may well be the longest, but Olivier's will be the one with the greatest performance of the Dane - and with the title role in place, the rest of the film will but follow.
On the upside, the staging of Claudius's prayer scene (the one before Hamlet kills - in a rather more unmistakably mad and violent way than as described in the text - Polonius) is perfect, Derek Jacobi is excellent throughout.
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on 8 February 2003
I have seen the full version and this film fails to deliver most of the time. In his films Branagh always plays the same part: himself. If you enjoy that, fine, but Hamlet many consider the most difficult role in the world and cruelly exposes an actor's limitations.
When we first see Hamlet it looks quite promising. Branagh gives us something new: Baby Branagh - it works very well. But by the time we get to the first soliloquy he completely loses it and we return to Boring Branagh. Some of the most beautiful lines ever written rendered like the weather forecast. But worse follows with his eccentric scenes. Branagh completely fails to convince one here. When all seems lost he shouts a lot. People often confuse acting with shouting. Here Branagh shouts as if he has decided to do Henry V yet again - his best part. His only part.
As for Winslett's performance - when she reaches yet another watery end you will probably be as glad as I was. Brian Blessed does well as Hamlet's father - if your sole experience of acting consists of enjoying the school play. Various ageing Americans demonstrate they have never quite got the hang of this Shakespeare lark. The experience feels like watching some particularly generously funded community play. "Oh, didn't Mr Forbes the grocer do well ?"
Tellingly, the film rapidly improves the moment Hamlet goes into exile. We are left in the capable hands of Derek Jacobi, who shows us how to act. About the only other person worthy of mention is Julie Christie. Her presence dominates every scene she appears in.
Branagh goes into Baby mode at the end and again this does really hit the mark - one feels genuinely sorry for Hamlet (instead of for the entire acting profession). What a pity Branagh could not find that form throughout.
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on 26 March 2003
Oh dear what a disappointment. My view of this film is exactly what Rossini said about Wagner...some great moments but some terrible quarter hours. I could have (just about) handled Jack Lemmon as a 75 year old soldier, I could almost forgive the total unnecessary inclusion of Ken Dodd as Yorick (ever heard of letting us use our imaginations instead?), I could even overlook the "most obvious use of blue screen in a movie ever" moment, and the soap powder snow if it wasn't for the fact that I had to endure Ken Bran-aarghh's flat voice and/or histronic thrashing abouts for 4 solid hours. In his desire to display every characteristic of Hamlet and touch on every major theory that's been written about the character, he fails to present any clear motive for the troubled prince, and leaves us confused and worse not caring about what happens to him.
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on 16 November 2009
I recently watched this version of Hamlet for my a level english class and throught the whole of the lesson i was just left thinking...Why the hell is everyone so old?! Hamlet is meant to be a young prince of around 19 years old...so why is he played by a man with a vast age diffrence?!I'm normally a fan of kate Winslet but in this film...she is quite frankly hilarious! Why can't ophelia say more than one word at a time? she sounds like she is having a very long orgasm!
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