Top critical review
Over-produced, over-directed, and loses the intimacy of Shakespeare's play
on 8 November 2014
Ok, I admit that Hamlet has never been my favourite Shakespeare but even so Branagh's project does the play no favours. Everything is bigged up: the vast exteriors and plush quasi-Hapsburg interiors, the huge ghost who looms over the guards in the opening scene, the liberal dusting of fake snow over everything, the rush of famous faces... and under all this the text, Hamlet himself, the language and Shakespeare's play are almost crushed out of existence.
Branagh's passion for the play comes over well in his introduction but he's far too old, far too confident, and far too chillingly focused to play Hamlet. For all the talk of naturalistic speech, everyone sounds like they're reciting Shakespeare with a reverence and self-consciousness that is almost the opposite of natural. And while it's always a problem to deliver the big soliloquies without them sounding both pat and terribly luvvie, here they appear even more false as Hamlet delivers them to his own reflection in a vast gilded mirror. Above all, the terrible intimacy of Shakespeare's play is erased: the sense of things hidden being exposed just gets lost in the vastness of the set.
Others have clearly loved this, and I certainly wouldn't want to put anyone off watching this - but I would suggest you read the play first to get a sense of what is being done with it in this big screen version.