Over the past week, I watched Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 full-text version of Hamlet twice; the second time reading along in the text and annotating Crowl’s “Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet: From text to screen”. The following are photos of my screen while watching it and a page of my notes on it.
A particular passage in Act 5 Scene 2 has always been fascinating to me as it portrays such a drastic change in Hamlet’s demeanor. It is in Hamlet’s conversation with Horatio immediately preceding the dual with Laertes. He talks about there being “special providence in the fall of a sparrow”(l.190), alluding to a line from the bible about divine direction or plan. He continues to say “The readiness is all.”(l.192) and “Let be.”(l.193). In the text I’ve generally interpreted this passage as a change in Hamlet to being finally at peace; having transcended his emotional turmoil into acceptance of his situation. Perhaps he means he is now ready to enact his revenge and face his destiny. He’s ready for anything, including death, and he is not going to needlessly obsess and agonize over it anymore. After philosophizing the meaning of life throughout prior scenes, most notably in the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, maybe he feels he’s reached some sort of spiritual enlightenment and with “Let be.” he’s possibly answering his own famous question.
In Branagh’s film, I found these same lines were delivered in a subtly depressing tone and the passage depicted as Hamlet saying good-bye to Horatio, like he knows he is going to his certain death and is ready to die. Clearly recognizing a trap in the King’s invitation, he seems to resign himself to it. It’s interpreted more as sad than peaceful. As he speaks the last line, a tear runs down his face and Horatio embraces him as if for the last time. The musical score during this speech sounds the same as in the sequence when Hamlet lays dying and when his body is carried out at the end (except without the trumpets), foreshadowing his imminent death.
Many things cross our minds when we think of Hamlet, the lovely prince of Denmark. He’s dramatic, introspective, and emo (before it was even cool). However, one thing that I usually don’t associate Hamlet with is humor. He’s way too serious for that. He’s the type of person whose jokes make us nervous because we aren’t sure when things will take a turn for the uncomfortable.
Strangely enough however, when watching Branagh’s 1996 version of Hamlet there was a rare moment were I found Hamlet genuinely funny. This moment is in Act 4 scene 3 line 48 when Hamlet says “But come; for England! Farewell, dear Mother.”
When I read this line in the text, I thought Hamlet was being serious. In my reading, Hamlet was so convinced that Gertrude and Claudius’ betrayal’s went hand in hand he decided that they were one and the same. In the film however, this interaction was much more entertaining. It became obvious to me that Hamlet was just trying to get on Claudius’ nerves, by addressing him as a female, and this amused me.
Although Hamlet is still fairy young, so much of what he does and says is alienating. (I mean who tells their girlfriend to become a nun?) This simple act of sass, and the cheeky cheek-kiss that followed Hamlet’s farewell to his “mother” made me realize that despite everything Hamlet is still a kid who derives pleasure from ticking his parent off. And sometimes don’t we all?
Its ok Hamlet. Sometimes i just want to yell in my room too…
In English 311 this semester I have watched Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 Hamlet and read the Robert S. Miola edition of the play while I watched. In the text, Hamlet watches the Grave-maker treat the skulls of the dead playfully, tossing them about instead of mournfully preparing them for the graves (5.1.87-98). Hamlet talks about one of the skulls and questions whether it might have once been a lawyer. He then contemplates how the proposed lawyer comes to be in such a state of powerlessness in death, being unable to take any action against the careless gravedigger or claim ownership of anything except his grave.
In Branagh’s film, Branagh, playing Hamlet, delivers these lines as if he is sort of amused at the same time as being confused that death makes life seem so meaningless. He doesn’t seem angry but more like he is accepting that it doesn’t matter that much what a person is or does during life because death comes for everyone and it means that in the end you have nothing. Perhaps this is also a statement on revenge and love meaning nothing as Hamlet tries so hard to take revenge on Claudius for his evil deeds against Hamlet’s beloved parents and in the end almost everyone is taken by an undiscriminating death. The way Branagh plays with the word ‘recognizance’ makes it sound like he is laughing at the lawyer for working so hard to achieve what he had during life because it doesn’t matter to anyone after his death, least of all the grave-digger playing with his skull. Hamlet seems to be laughing at the absurdity and meaninglessness of life in general.
Surprisingly, I really enjoyed watching Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film Hamlet. I thought it would be difficult to watch (mainly because it’s four hours long), but I easily became obsessed with the film and thought the acting was superb. It was also great to see Kate Winslet and Robin Williams in the film, and I thought Kate Winslet did an excellent job playing Ophelia. At times she was acting absolutely insane, but that’s when you know you’ve played your role well! Below, you will find notes I took while watching the film. They’re a bit scattered and all over the place, but I wanted to track my progress.
I thought it was amazing how the film followed the dialogue completely — I don’t remember a single line being skipped! This is how the film differs from other Hamlet movies, as most of the other ones will omit lines. I enjoyed this version way more than the Almereyda version I watched for my first blog post. Almereyda’s film skipped many lines and took a more modern approach to the play, while this film followed the dialogue and seemed more authentic.
For my film diary, I decided to focus on Act 4, Scene 2. Above, you will see my annotations and notes for this act. The lines in particular that I would like to focus on are 25-26 in Miola’s edition of Hamlet. In these lines, Hamlet says:
“The body is with the King, but the King is not with the body. The King is a thing.” (p. 87).
I found these lines to be both confusing and intriguing, as I was trying to find out what the heck Hamlet means. I determined that he was probably referring to his father as a being, but at the same time was also referring to the ghost or spirit of his father. The King is therefore “a thing” (p. 87) that doesn’t fit into a specific category. This irony/antithesis stuck out to me while I was reading the book, and its portrayal in the film was equally intriguing. While watching Act 4, Scene 2, I was pleased to find that Branagh took a different approach and presented Hamlet in a whimsical and hilarious manner. The way he is walking away from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is nothing short of hilarious, and the acting is superb. In the other films, the scene was much darker, but Branagh takes an interesting approach and makes it more lighthearted. I also enjoyed how everyone was walking behind Hamlet and the camera was following the movement of the characters. Lines 25-26 in particular are also presented in a very unique manner. Hamlet grabs Rosencrantz in a playful (and slightly aggressive) way when speaking the aforementioned lines, and does a nifty little spin after saying “The King is a thing” (p. 87). Branagh’s playful portrayal of the characters is very fun to watch, and the vibrant colors and costumes add to the overall visual effect of the play. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually enjoyed the four hours I spent watching the film. Well done, Branagh!
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.
This film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is my personal favourite rendition of any Shakespearean film, as Kenneth Branagh chooses to use the entirety of Hamlet‘s script. The use of the entire script allows for the actors and scenes they act within to be expressed to their fullest, as each word may be succinctly recited from the play with no changes or alterations, whilst maintaining the beauty and purity of a Shakespearean film.
Within the final scene of the movie and play, Act 5, Scene 2, Laertes and Hamlet duel, which begins the gruesome finale within which all of the main characters present within the throne room die. An interesting adaptation seen within the film when compared to the play is Hamlet and Laertes’ stripping of their clothes in the later stages of their duel, removing their upper vestments as if synonymously removing their guarded inhibitions towards each other to symbolize the grand conclusion of the film and play. The film very accurately shows Laertes and Hamlet’s disdain for each other, for as the duel continues, both parties grow more agitated and visibly disgruntled by the others unfaltering assault. This disdain concludes in the film with Laertes falling from a catwalk above the throne room, cast down by Hamlet, defining Hamlet’s fleeting victory of Laertes.
Laertes and Hamlet duel, beginning the bloodythirsty brawl of the conclusion.
I found the film showed me the amount of anger and emotion that is captured within this final scene of Hamlet, where Claudius aggressively requests for Gertrude to not drink from the poisoned chalice, seen in “Gertrude, do not drink” (Line 267). This instance shows that the same level of emotion that is conveyed in the film is not so easily seen in the play, where Claudius’ line in the script comes off without very much emotion or feeling. This is seen again only a few lines later, where Hamlet states, “Nay, come again” (Line 280)
. The same lack of emotion seen within the play is more accurately portrayed within the film, as Hamlet is shouting at the viewers of his and Laertes’ scuffle to not interfere in the business of the duel, or whatever it had become at that point in time. All in all, Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Hamlet is well worth the four hours, by detailing the play in all of it’s glory, with no shortcuts or “trimming of the fat”, so to speak.
The PDF by Crowl begins by describing differences between Olivier’s Hamlet and Branagh’s Hamlet. Oliver trimmed the text to focus on the individual phyche. In contrast, Branagh did not adjust the text. He not only uses every word, but fills in the gap with visuals. Crowl links this desire to flesh out a realistic story by filling in the gaps to the rise of novels. He then goes on to discuss Branagh’s setting, film score, character, and camera. Below is a picture of my notes on the first couple pages of the PDF file.
At Ophelia’s grave Branagh’s Hamlet screams the lines “Forty thousand brothers/could not with all their quality of love/Make up my sum” (5.1.249-251). As he yells this with his face full of emotion, Horatio and a courtier restrain him so he does not attack Laertes. This choice emphasis how improper it is to fight Ophelia’s brother in his grief. The treatment of these lines immediately following “I loved Ophelia” (5.1.249) expands the misogynistic theme in Hamlet by focusing on directly putting a man, Laertes, down instead of expanding his thoughts of his woman, Ophelia. When reading the text, I read brother to be a more arbitrary and thus Hamlet is more loving than Branagh suggests.
Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) is quite literally four hours long. It was nearly impossible for me to get through the movie in one session so I did end up watching the film over several sessions. Personally, my overall impression of the movie was that I found it quite enjoyable. I particularly found the depictions of the characters Ophelia and Hamlet both dramatic and entertaining in equal measure. I can definitely say that I appreciated this adaptation over the Almereyda’s Hamlet (2000) as this one was more historically accurate, the soundtrack was on point, the acting was phenomenal, and the use of flashbacks to uncover the past as we simultaneously move forward in time was immaculate.
In act 5 scene 2, when I first read the lines “…to make true diction of him, his semblance is his mirror, and who else would trace him, his umbrage, nothing more” in the original text (ll.100-101), I interpreted this as a genuine compliment that Hamlet makes about Laertes. However, the film led me to believe otherwise because Branagh delivers these lines very quickly and with a sarcastic tone. This almost creates an impression that what Hamlet said should not be taken too seriously. That being said, I appreciate that the film made me think about this line differently because I found more humour in it.
Overall, I had a great viewing experience and I commend the ways in which the film maintained a balance between keeping with the original text and departing from it.
These are the notes I made while watching the film.
I watched the film on the tiny screen of my laptop.
Watching Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 version of Hamlet seemed to be a daunting task due to the length; however, sitting down and watching, the time seemed to go by quite fast. I found Branagh’s version to be captivating and exciting.
Act five scene one of Branagh’s version grabbed my attention in how dark this scene is. Going back to look at Franco Zeffirelli’s version, there is a distinct difference between the two directors interpretations. Branagh as Hamlet stating the well-known speech “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him Horatio” (5.1.165-66), adds a much more dark and emotional tone. The lighting, the delivery of the dialogue, and the music adds to the dark emotional state that Hamlet is in.
Watching the film, as well as reading the text, I noticed how this line is often misquoted. I was waiting for the “well” at the end of “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him”, but soon realized this was not the way Shakespeare wrote it.
Below is also a picture of my annotated text of Miola’s edition of Hamlet, specifically act two, scene two when Hamlet meets with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
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…
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.