Hamlet (1996 film)

Hamlet (1996 film)

Infobox Film
name = Hamlet

caption = Film poster for "Hamlet"
director = Kenneth Branagh
producer = David Barron
writer = William Shakespeare
starring = 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
music = Patrick Doyle
cinematography = Alex Thomson
editing = Neil Farrell
distributor = Columbia Pictures
Castle Rock Entertainment
released = December 25, 1996
runtime = 242 min.
language = English
budget =
preceded_by =
followed_by =
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 Palace for exterior scenes. It co-stars Derek Jacobi as King Claudius, Julie Christie as Queen Gertrude, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, Richard Briers as Polonius, and Nicholas Farrell as Horatio.

The film is notable as the first unabridged theatrical film version 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 television version 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 Depardieu and other appearances by well-known actors include Charlton Heston as the First Player, Robin Williams as the courtier Osric, Richard Attenborough as the English Ambassador, Brian Blessed as the ghost of Hamlet's father, Jack Lemmon as Marcellus, the palace guard, and Billy Crystal as 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 Priam and Hecuba (mentioned in the monologue performed by the First Player on his arrival at Elsinore), John Mills plays "Old Norway", uncle of Fortinbras (mentioned by Claudius and Voltemand), and Ken Dodd plays Yorick.

In addition to the film stars, the play also features British theatre stars in tiny roles: for example; Simon Russell Beale plays the second gravedigger, Ray Fearon plays the guard Francisco, Ian McElhinney as Barnardo (Bernardo), and Jeffrey Kissoon plays 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 film format as of 2007.


Aspects of the film's staging are based on Adrian Noble's recent Royal Shakespeare Company production 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 era costuming 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 flashbacks to 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 Ebert awarded the film four stars, comparing it to Laurence Olivier's lauded 1948 version while Janet Maslin praised 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 Berardinelli has gone so far as to declare the Branagh "Hamlet" the finest Shakespeare film 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 Rose of The Washington Post calling 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 Howe writing 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."

DVD release

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 ] ]


External links

*imdb title|id=0116477|title=Hamlet
* [http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~ngoc/101.htm 101+ reasons to watch Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet]

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