Hamlet - * * * *

Hamlet

Kenneth Branagh delivers an excellent uncut adaptation of William Shakespeare’s most famous play. Branagh directs and stars as Hamlet, the Danish prince. Julie Christie plays Queen Gertrude, and Derek Jacobi is Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, now king. The casting follows the mold of Branagh’s successful Much Ado About Nothing, with a mix of Shakespearean stage actors and well known Hollywood stars. Appearing in various roles are: Kate Winslet (Ophelia), Brian Blessed (the Ghost), Richard Briers (Polonius), Michael Maloney (Laertes), Charlton Heston (Player King), Rosemary Harris (Player Queen), Jack Lemmon (Marsellus), Gerard Depardieu (Reynaldo), Robin Williams (Osric), Billy Crystal (First Gravedigger), Sir Richard Attenborough (English Ambassador), John Gielgud (Priam) and Judy Dench (Hecuba). For the most part, this casting pays off. Only two actors (Jack Lemmon and Gerard Depardieu) are uncomfortable and don’t quite fit in their roles. But their scenes are small in a very large film, and the wondrous performances by the rest of the cast far outshine those few dim bulbs. In particular, Derek Jacobi is a devious Claudius, and Richard Briers is impressive as the scheming Polonius. The film is set in the mid 19th century, but seems well at home there, and the setting never distracts from the film. By presenting Hamlet in its uncut form, Branagh delivers hidden nuances and subtle shadings missed by earlier truncated versions. Flashbacks are used prominently throughout the film to enlighten viewers who may be unfamiliar with the play and its context, they serve as illustrations that a stage production is incapable of providing, and enhance the story. This version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece is definately worth the length, and is a masterpiece in its own right.

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