- Hamlet (1996 film)
name = Hamlet
caption = Film poster for "Hamlet"
Kenneth Branagh Derek Jacobi Julie Christie Richard Briers Michael Maloney Kate Winslet Billy Crystal Gérard Depardieu Robin Williams Charlton Heston Jack Lemmon Rufus Sewell Timothy Spall Reece Dinsdale Brian Blessed Richard Attenborough Nicholas Farrell John Gielgud Judi Dench
Columbia Pictures Castle Rock Entertainment
December 25, 1996
runtime = 242 min.
language = English
amg_id = 1:136644
imdb_id = 0116477
"Hamlet" is a 1996 film version of
William Shakespeare's classic play of the same name, adapted and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars in the title role as Prince Hamlet. It is set in the 19th century, and uses Blenheim Palacefor exterior scenes. It co-stars Derek Jacobias King Claudius, Julie Christieas Queen Gertrude, Kate Winsletas Ophelia, Richard Briersas Polonius, and Nicholas Farrellas Horatio.
The film is notable as the first unabridged
theatrical filmversion of the play. The complete film runs at just over four hours. The longest version of the play prior to the 1996 film was the 1980 BBC televisionversion starring Derek Jacobi, which runs three-and-a-half hours. A shorter edit of the Branagh film, approximately two-and-a-half hours long, was shown in some markets. [ [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116477/alternateversions Alternate versions] ]
The film features a large number of celebrity cameos. Seemingly no role was too small to be played by a star; the servant Reynaldo, who appears only briefly in a single scene and is often left out of abridged versions of the play, is played by French star
Gerard Depardieuand other appearances by well-known actors include Charlton Hestonas the First Player, Robin Williamsas the courtier Osric, Richard Attenboroughas the English Ambassador, Brian Blessedas the ghost of Hamlet's father, Jack Lemmonas Marcellus, the palace guard, and Billy Crystalas the gravedigger. The flashbacks and dream sequences even allow for celebrities appearing in non-speaking roles as characters who are only mentioned in the play: Sir John Gielgud and Dame Judi Dench play Priamand Hecuba(mentioned in the monologue performed by the First Player on his arrival at Elsinore), John Millsplays "Old Norway", uncle of Fortinbras (mentioned by Claudius and Voltemand), and Ken Doddplays Yorick.
In addition to the film stars, the play also features British theatre stars in tiny roles: for example;
Simon Russell Bealeplays the second gravedigger, Ray Fearonplays the guard Francisco, Ian McElhinney as Barnardo (Bernardo), and Jeffrey Kissoonplays Fortinbras's captain.
Blenheim Palace, built in the early 18th century, became Elsinore Castle in the external scenes. The film's budget was $18 million. "Hamlet" was filmed in Panavision Super 70 by Alex Thomson. It was the last feature film shot entirely in the 70mm filmformat as of 2007.
Aspects of the film's staging are based on
Adrian Noble's recent Royal Shakespeare Companyproduction of the play, in which Branagh had played the title role. [Crowl, Samuel "Flamboyant Realist: Kenneth Branagh" in Jackson, Russell "The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film" (Cambridge University Press, 2000)]
In a radical departure from previous Hamlet films, Branagh set the internal scenes in a vibrantly colourful setting, featuring a throne room dominated by mirrored doors; film scholar Samuel Crowl calls the setting "film noir" with all the lights on." [Crowl, p.227] Branagh chose
Victorian eracostuming and furnishings, using Blenheim Palace, built in the early 18th century, as Elsinore Castle for the external scenes. Harry Keyishan has suggested that the film is structured as an epic, courting comparison with "Ben Hur", "The Ten Commandments" and "Doctor Zhivago". [Keyishian, p.78] As J. Lawrence Guntner points out, comparisons with the latter film are heightened by the presence of Julie Christie("Zhivago's" Lara) as Gertrude. [Guntner, pp.122-123.]
Despite using a full text, Branagh's film is also very visual; it makes frequent use of
flashbacksto depict elements that are not performed in Shakespeare's text, such as Hamlet's sexual relationship with Kate Winslet's Ophelia and his childhood friendship with Yorick. [Keyishian, p.79] The film also uses very long single takes for numerous scenes. In addition, the film also includes a single word - "Attack!" - not present in any Shakespearean source or modern edition.
The courtier Osric is wounded in the final scene. In Shakespeare's original, he is not injured.
"Hamlet" received largely positive reviews. It has 94% "fresh" rating at "
Rotten Tomatoes". [cite web |url=http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1075422-hamlet/ |title=Hamlet (1996) |accessdate=2008-08-09 |work= Rotten Tomatoes|publisher= IGN Entertainment, Inc] Roger Ebertawarded the film four stars, comparing it to Laurence Olivier's lauded 1948 version while Janet Maslinpraised both the film and Branagh's performance. [cite web
title=Roger Ebert's Review] [cite web
title=Janet Maslin's Review]
Some critics, notably
Stanley Kauffmann, declared the film to be the finest motion picture version of "Hamlet" yet made, and online film critic James Berardinellihas gone so far as to declare the Branagh "Hamlet" the finest Shakespearefilm ever made, rating it as the fourth best film of the 90's and one of the top 100 of all time. [cite web
title=James Berardinelli's Review] The "New York Review of Books" praised the attention given to Shakespeare's language, "giving the meter of the verse a musician's respect," [O'Brien, Geoffrey "New York Review of Books" 6 February 1997, cited by Samuel Crowl, "Framboyant Realist: Kenneth Branagh" in Jackson, Russell "The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film" (Cambridge University Press, 2000) p.228] ; Branagh himself says his aim is "telling the story with utmost clarity and simplicity." [Branagh, Kenneth "Introduction and Notes" to "Much Ado About Nothing: Screenplay" p.ix cited by Crowl, p.228] .
The film did have its detractors however, with
Lloyd Roseof The Washington Postcalling it "the film equivalent of a lushly illustrated coffee-table book" [ [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/review97/hamletrose.htm WashingtonPost.com: 'Hamlet': Kenneth Branagh's Inaction Flick ] ] and Desson Howewriting of Branagh's performance "...the choices he makes are usually overextended. When it's time to be funny, he skitters over the top. When he's sad or touched, he makes a mechanical, catching noise in his throat." [ [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/review97/hamlethowe.htm WashingtonPost.com: Branagh's 'Hamlet': Not to Be ] ]
"Hamlet," however, was not a success at the box office, playing on fewer than 100 screens in the U.S. and earning only $5 million in its limited American run.
Branagh's "Hamlet" received four Oscar nominations (for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction and Best Original Score). The nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay raised some eyebrows, since Branagh had made little alteration to Shakespeare's text beyond transposing two or three speeches. However, Roger Ebert, in particular, defended the choice [cite web
title=Ebert on Oscar Nomination] , noting, "A screenplay is something more than dialogue ... Screenplays also cover construction, scene choices, character treatments and, in the case of a writer-director like Branagh, the visual strategy."
A 2-Disc DVD was released in the United States on the 14th August 2007. It includes a full-length commentary by Branagh and Shakespeare scholar Russell Jackson. [ [http://www.kenbranagh.com/news.htm Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet ] ]
* [http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~ngoc/101.htm 101+ reasons to watch Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet]
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