Shakespeare in Film – Part 6 – Hamlet – Gibson’s 1990 Version

Mel Gibson became a movie star in such action adventure movies as Road Warrior and Lethal Weapon.  But he was interested in more intellectually challenging projects and so eventually he became a director and produced some very interesting films such as Apocalypto and Passion of the Christ.  But even before his directorial debut he branched out into less popular films.  He starred in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 version of Hamlet which is the subject of this post.

Gibson was surrounded by a very respectable group of American and British actors with Glenn Close as the Queen, Alan Bates as the King and Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia, Hamlet’s love.  The staging is more naturalistic than the Olivier version and has a number of outside shots that make it feel less claustrophobic than the Olivier version.  Interestingly the selection of scenes coincides closely to Olivier’s.  Zeffirelli didn’t completely eliminate Rosencrantz and Guildenstern but they were minimized.  And once again as in Olivier’s version it is Horatio who speaks the final lines of the play.

Without a doubt this version is much more emotional and the dialog is imbued with a more theatrical air.  I won’t say that the intensity is over the top but it is decidedly less restrained than Olivier’s version.  From a personal perspective I prefer Olivier’s rendering but by no means would I call Gibson’s performance poor.  It is spirited and heartfelt but it lacks the polished perfection of Olivier’s performance.

In an earlier installment of these Hamlet posts I described the different acting methods used by the British Shakespearian tradition that concentrated on mastering techniques versus the American method acting school.  Gibson is not an extreme method actor but he emphasized the emotional aspect of the part and that explains some of the difference between the two versions.  But as much as Gibson is a good actor he cannot compare to Olivier.  So, Gibson’s version is interesting and skillfully done.  But it wouldn’t be the one I would add to my collection if I was only going to have one.

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2 years ago

My high-school lit class watched Gibson’s Hamlet. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for the memories!

2 years ago
Reply to  photog

HA!! I can’t NOT see Cruella de Vil when I see Glenn Close