Watching Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet may seem as torturous as running a marathon, but Branagh makes sure it is worth your time. The cinematography of this film is superb– almost every scene in the movie can be a standalone picture. Furthermore, Branagh perfectly captures the multi-faceted Hamlet and even effectively delivers Hamlet’s funny (and punny) one-liners.
Derek Jacobi is convincing as Claudius. Through Jacobi’s portrayal, we can see why Hamlet detests him – he is a calculating, two-faced, and a master manipulator. However, Jacobi also adds another dimension to his portrayal of Claudius – remorse. In the prayer scene, we can see that Claudius is genuinely remorseful for killing his brother, such that I almost feel sympathy for him.
Julie Christie is also amazing as Gertrude. From her acting, we can easily see Gertrude’s character progression– initially in love (or in lust?) with Claudius to the eventual realization that Claudius’ personality is what’s “rotten in the state of Denmark” (1.4.90). This is particularly evident in the last part of Act 4 Scene 7. In the text, Claudius tells Gertrude, “let’s follow” (4.7.193). Although the line doesn’t appear to be noteworthy, Branagh’s interpretation makes it so. In the film, Claudius almost demandingly says this line to Gertrude. Through Christie’s acting we can see that she is starting to believe Hamlet’s suspicions towards Claudius. This is further accentuated by the foreboding score that plays in the background. Even without uttering a word, we already get the impression that Gertrude had started to realize she made a grave mistake of marrying Claudius.
This aforementioned scene is one of the many that prove Branagh has made an excellent interpretation of Hamlet.