Hamlet is probably William Shakespeare’s most revered play and has been the basis for the most film adaptations of all his work. This version, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is one of three such film adaptations to be released in my lifetime, the other two being the 1990 Franco Zeffirelli version staring Mel Gibson and the modernized 2000 version staring Ethan Hawke. With the Blu-Ray release of Branagh’s version, I thought that I would like to spend some time to talk about what makes this is my preferred adaptation of the play.
What Branagh did, which helped this film stand out from other adaptations, is opted to make the film an unabridged adaptation. As a result, the film runs for just over four hours, with an intermission shortly after the two and half hour point (the intermission message still appears on Blu-Ray, even though the large capacity of the format allows the entire film to be shown on one disc). This large running time does make it a difficult film to watch – I’ve only seen it a handful of times – however, the use of the full text does allow for a much greater character development than is seen in previous adaptations.
The film is also quite notable for large ensemble cast, which includes many notable actors in bit roles. Branagh cast himself in the title role and is joined by Derek Jacobi as Claudius, Julie Christie as Gertrude, and a quite young looking Kate Winslet as Ophelia. The notable cameos in the film include the likes of Richard Attenborough, Charlton Heston, Judi Dench, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams.
I first discovered the film while I was studying the play back in high school. While I was at first taken aback by the length, I was amazed by quality of the film and Branagh’s very sympathetic performance. The film quickly became the definitive adaptation in my mind and when clips from the Zeffirelli version were later shown in class, I absolutely hated it in contrast. I preferred Branagh’s choice to set the film in the late 1800’s, as opposed to Zeffirelli’s more medieval setting.
The film ended up being not only my preferred adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, but also one of my favourite films in general. If you are willing to brave the four hour length, I highly recommend you check it out.
Hamlet is available currently on Blu-Ray in all finer retailers. And a couple that aren’t so fine.