Top positive review
... Tis well. I'll have thee speak out the rest, too.
on 11 January 2015
"Hamlet" doesn't need any introduction -- the tortured Dane, the ghost, meditations on suicide and a climax full of death.
And for many years, the definitive version has been Kenneth Branagh's sprawling four-hour movie, "William Shakespeare's Hamlet." Branagh -- who both directed and starred in it -- sometimes bombasts his way out of scenes that deserve more subtlety, but the richness of the acting, the beautiful cinematography and the wells of powerful emotion make this a rewarding experience.
Prince Hamlet of Denmark (Branagh and his peroxided hair) is understandably upset when, only a short time after his father's death, his mother Gertrude (Julie Christie) marries his uncle Claudius (Derek Jacobi), who is now the new king. But when Hamlet encounters the tormented ghost of his father (Brian Blessed), he learns that his dad was murdered by his uncle. But he's plagued by indecision, since he's unsure if the spirit was truly his dad.
Over the days that follow, Hamlet's behavior becomes more bizarre and erratic. He treats his girlfriend Ophelia (Kate Winslet) horribly, arranges a play that mimics real life a little too closely, and generally acts like a loon. But when an argument with Gertrude ends in tragedy, Claudius plots to have Hamlet killed upon his return to England. And as madness and death fester in Denmark's palace, Hamlet is drawn back to have his final vengeance -- but doing so may destroy him and everyone he knows.
"Hamlet" is one of those plays that only really comes out two ways -- either you have a passionate, intense tragedy full of very human characters, or you have two boring hours of some whiny guy talking to himself. While "William Shakespeare's Hamlet" has some draggy bits (which isn't surprising, considering the FOUR HOUR length), the sheer passion and verve keeps it energized.
And Branagh stages everything like a play, set on a very elaborate stage. The forests and expanses of Denmark look faintly artificial, and the palace is a great black-and-white checkerboard with mirrored doors and scarlet carpets. Branagh follows Shakespeare's immortal writing faithfully, but also adds some wild, vivid spins of his own -- the action-packed duel, Ophelia getting hosed down, Hamlet's fantasies of stabbing his uncle.
The biggest problem? Sometimes Branagh gets too bombastic and flashy when he should show more subtlety -- when he mentions hell, the ground splits open and spews flame. And the final clash with Claudius is marred by a falling chandelier that seems more Errol Flynn than Shakespeare.
Branagh (and his peroxided hair) play Hamlet as almost bipolar -- when he isn't roaring with manic energy (guess what happens during the play!), he whispers unblinkingly with wire-taut tension. He clearly has an intense love for the material, and it becomes almost exhausting to see him pour so much passion and emotion into every line that Hamlet utters.
And Kate Winslet gives the most perfect Ophelia performance ever, descending into glazed-eyed, giggling insanity halfway through the movie. Branagh also managed to get an all-star cast for this, with some mesmerizing performances by Christie, Jacobi, Rufus Sewell, Nicholas Farrell, Richard Briers and Blessed (why did he get Brian Blessed playing a character who only whispers?).
There are also some smaller performances by A-list actors, who all seem very delighted with roles that are barely more than cameos -- Sir John Gielgud, Judi Dench, a clearly enthusiastic Charlton Heston, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Gérard Depardieu.
"William Shakespeare's Hamlet" is a powerhouse. While it could use a little less bombast, the rich acting and passionate delivery make it far more intriguing than most four-hour movies can be.