Shakespeare in Film – Part 7 – Hamlet – Branagh’s 1996 Version

I saw this in the theater when it came out.  There are a few things that should be said about it to start with.  It’s fully four hours long!  It has everyone in Hollywood (and outside of it) in the cast.  Richard Attenborough, Brian Blessed, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Judi Dench, Gérard Depardieu, John Gielgud, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, Kate Winslet and so help me even Robin Williams.  And the cinematography is full of pomp and circumstance and beautiful settings.  But it is unwatchable.

Branagh runs around doing his crazy act and shouting out his lines at a dizzying rate but the whole thing is annoying and after even a half hour becomes too tedious to endure.  Some of the performances I did enjoy.  Richard Briers as Polonius I thought was good.  I liked Derek Jacobi as Claudius.  Jack Lemmon as one of the watchmen I found unconvincing.

For a true devotee of Shakespeare who is determined to watch it, I suggest watching it in a scene by scene fashion.  Probably twenty or thirty minutes is the sub-lethal dose.  So taking it in eight to twelve bite sized chunks you could get through without losing your ability to appreciate the lines.

It’s a pity.  Branagh was given a budget and an array of talent that is impressive.  And a lot of the visual presentation is beautiful.  But his vision for the title role falls far short of even such popular versions as Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 version with Mel Gibson.

So let me not go on beating it up.  Let me just say I cannot recommend this version for an enjoyable experience of the play.  Watch Olivier or Gibson.

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War Pig
War Pig
8 months ago

I liked Branagh’s Henry V and that’s about all.