I could be bounded in a nutshell and call myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams…
Hamlet is a 1996 film version of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, adapted for the screen and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars in the titular role as Prince Hamlet. The film also features Derek Jacobi as King Claudius, Julie Christie as Queen Gertrude, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, Michael Maloney as Laertes, Richard Briers as Polonius, and Nicholas Farrell as Horatio. Other notable appearances include Robin Williams, Gérard Depardieu, Jack Lemmon, Billy Crystal, Rufus Sewell, Charlton Heston, Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, John Gielgud and Ken Dodd.
The film is notable as the first unabridged theatrical film version of the play, running just over four hours. The longest screen version of the play prior to the 1996 film was the 1980 BBC made-for-television version starring Derek Jacobi, which runs three-and-a-half hours.
The play’s setting is updated to the 19th century. Blenheim Palace is the setting used for the exterior grounds of Elsinore Castle and interiors were all photographed at Shepperton Studios, blended with the footage shot at Blenheim. Hamlet was also the last major dramatic motion picture to be filmed entirely on 70 mm film until 2012, with the release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.
Hamlet was highly acclaimed by the majority of critics and has been regarded as one of the best Shakespeare film adaptations ever made. However, it was not a box office success, grossing just under $5 million on a budget of $18 million. The film received four Academy Award nominations for the 69th Academy Awards for Best Art Direction (Tim Harvey), Best Costume Design (Alexandra Byrne), Best Original Score (Patrick Doyle), and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) (Kenneth Branagh).
Hamlet received overwhelmingly positive reviews. It currently holds a 95% rating at Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus, “Kenneth Branagh’s sprawling, finely textured adaptation of Shakespeare’s masterpiece lives up to its source material, using strong performances and a sharp cinematic focus to create a powerfully resonant film that wastes none of its 246 minutes.”
Roger Ebert, film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, awarded the film four stars, comparing it to Laurence Olivier’s lauded 1948 version, stating, “Branagh’s Hamlet lacks the narcissistic intensity of Laurence Olivier’s (in the 1948 Academy Award winner), but the film as a whole is better, placing Hamlet in the larger context of royal politics, and making him less a subject for pity.” Janet Maslin of The New York Times also praised both Branagh’s direction and performance, writing, “This Hamlet, like Branagh’s version of Much Ado About Nothing, takes a frank, try-anything approach to sustaining its entertainment value, but its gambits are most often evidence of Branagh’s solid showmanship. His own performance is the best evidence of all.” The New York Review of Books praised the attention given to Shakespeare’s language, “giving the meter of the verse a musician’s respect”; Branagh himself said his aim was “telling the story with utmost clarity and simplicity.”
Some critics, notably Stanley Kauffmann, declared the film to be the finest motion picture version of Hamlet yet made. Noted online film critic James Berardinelli wrote the film a glowing four star review and went so far as to declare the Branagh Hamlet the finest Shakespeare adaptation ever, rating it as the best film of 1996, the fourth best film of the 90s, and one of his top 101 favourite films of all time, saying, “From the moment it was first announced that Branagh would attempt an unabridged Hamlet, I never doubted that it would be a worthy effort. After all, his previous forays into Shakespeare have been excellent. Nothing, however, prepared me for the power and impact of this motion picture. Hyperbole comes easily when describing this Hamlet, decidedly the most impressive motion picture of 1996. Nothing else this year has engaged my intellect, senses, and emotions in quite the same way. I have seen dozens of versions of this play (either on screen or on stage), and none has ever held me in such a grip of awe. This may be Branagh’s dream, but it is our pleasure.”
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” and Desson Thomson 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.” The notoriously severe John Simon also criticised the film, calling Branagh’s performance “brawny” and “not easy to like” and stating that Branagh’s direction used “explicitness where Shakespeare […] settled for subtlety or mere suggestion.” Leonard Maltin, who gave the film a positive three stars in his Movie and Video Guide (and gave the Olivier version of Hamlet four stars), praised the cinematography by Alex Thomson, but stated that “Branagh essentially gives a stage performance that is nearly as over-the-top as some of his directorial touches.”
Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet ranks No. 3 on Rotten Tomatoes list of Greatest Shakespeare Movies, just behind Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985), which ranks in second place, and Branagh’s own Henry V (1989), which ranks in first place.
+Commentary by Director Kenneth Branagh and Text Consultant Russell Jackson
4.10GB | 4h 02m | 1024×462 | mkv