Reviewed by: Kevin Burk
Kenneth Branagh’s production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is one of the few film versions of the famous play that reproduces every scene from the original work. Most adaptations, such as Mel Gibson’s version, were abridged versions of the play. As a result this version is approximately four hours long.
Branagh’s version is set in the late 1800’s, with himself in the title role. Hamlet, the young prince of Elsinore, grieves for his father’s recent death while being enraged that his mother has married his uncle just months after his father’s passing. Hamlet is visited by the spirit of his deceased father, urging him to take avenge for his death by killing his uncle. The spirit reveals that his brother and wife had him poisoned so they could legitimately marry each other. As a plot to keep his knowledge secret, Hamlet feigns madness to the king and court. Eventually, one tragedy follows upon another to a tragic conclusion. If there is a theme in this work, it is most likely that uncontrolled passions often lead to great heartache and suffering in the end.
“Hamlet” is a vast undertaking with a beautiful style to it, particularly the set of the Elsinore palace. The acting is excellent and Shakespeare’s original script has not lost its powerful dramatic force. Remarkably, this story of murder and betrayal seems surprisingly at home in the Machiavellian, power-hungry era of 19th-Century Europe. A few notes of caution—this story is filled with adult content, including murders, adultery and other immoral acts and is not for young children. However, if you have older children who can follow the difficult dialogue, “Hamlet” can be a good springboard to show the consequences of sin. Unfortunately, Branagh adds some gory violence, explicit sexual scenes and occultic tones which were never part of the original. Yet, “Hamlet” is, overall, an excellent adaptation of Shakespeare’s original.