A Brief Review of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996)

To paraphrase the popular colloquial lingo: I’m no film critic, but I know what I like. To match that phrase against Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film Hamlet is to say, “Finally! Shakespeare on film done right!” The uncut script, rich settings and well-delivered acting provide a refreshing boon amongst the surfeit of abridged, revised and heavily altered incarnations of Shakespeare’s work that seem to dominate the film market. Of course, rendering a full text retelling on screen is no meager feat, for both film producers and their audience. Given that the movie spans a whole four hours, I suddenly became quite thankful that I live in a society and an era where technology and comfort have evolved to provide such creature comforts like pause buttons, coffee machines and portable screens across from comfy beds; unlike back in the old days…

 

 

The acting, while not necessarily perfect throughout, is more than convincing enough to connect the audience to the characters. Indeed, there are numerous places where I find the both the screenplay and score clarify and enrich the emotion and pace of the script. Select scenes include Hamlet’s maniacal conversion to vengeance after speaking with his father’s ghost; the double-standard hypocrisy of Polonius, deceptively seeking information on his son’s moral character while a prostitute leaves his room; the extent of Hamlet’s “tenders” towards Ophelia; and many more.

 

Two jobs, band gigs, university applications and 8 essays this month... I'm gonna look like this guy soon...

Two jobs, band gigs, university applications and 8 essays this month… I’m gonna look like this guy soon…

 

Most notably, in Act 5, Scene 1, Queen Gertrude enters upon Claudius and Laertes to deliver the news of Ophelia’s death. What may be flat and enigmatic on the page is suddenly transformed by Gertrude’s marvelous delivery. Her delay of the word “drowned” in her opening address to Laertes adds a poignant sobriety to the matter at hand, yet her following words serve as a sort of happy eulogy – as though she were trying to soften the emotional blow (the line, “mermaid-like,” is excellently delivered). Finally at the end of the scene, we see Claudius once again for the self-centric monster he is. Rather than sharing in the grief of Laertes and his queen, he acts with an utmost irritation and disdain. “How much I had to do to calm his rage!” and “Let’s follow!” sound an undertone of sheer ego and annoyance.

 

Late nights and messy desks.

Late nights and messy desks.

One thought on “A Brief Review of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996)

  1. ullyot says:

    I love the glimpse this post gives of your — what should I call it, your thought process? Thanks for this!

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