27 May 2013

Hamlet (Branagh 1996)

Hamlet (Branagh 1996)
  • Director: Kenneth Branagh
  • Based on book: Shakespeare.
  • Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi, Kate Winslet, Michael Maloney, Nicholas Farrell, Brian Blessed, Timothy Spall, Rufus Sewell and just about everyone else in the world
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Kenneth Branagh – everything. Here are a few: Frankenstein, Henry V, Valkyrie, Wallander, Swing Kids, The Boat That Rocked, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Rabbit Proof Fence, Shackleton, How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, Fortunes of War
    • Julie Christie – Doctor Zhivago, Darling, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Go Between, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Finding Neverland, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Fahrenheit 451, Heaven Can Wait, Petulia, Don’t Look Now, Heat and Dust, Afterglow
    • Derek Jacobi – I Claudius, Henry V, Hamlet (BBC 1980), Gladiator, The King’s Speech, Gosford Park, Dead Again
    • Kate Winslet – Titanic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Reader, Little Children, Finding Neverland, Hideous Kinky, Sense and Sensibility,
    • Michael Maloney - The Young Victoria, Babel, In the Bleak Midwinter, Othello, Hamlet (Zefferelli), Henry V
    • Nicholas Farrell – In the Bleak Midwinter, Twelfth Night, Sex Chips and Rock’n’Roll, Driving Lessons
    • Brian Blessed – As You Like It, I Claudius
    • Timothy Spall – Harry Potter, Sweeney Todd, Secrets and Lies, The King’s Speech, Alice in Wonderland, Love’s Labour’s Lost, All or Nothing, Our Mutual Friend
    • Rufus Sewell – The Tourist, A Knight’s Tale, Taming of the Shrew (Retold), The Holiday, Paris je t’aime, Middlemarch
  • Why bought: Hamlet
  • Seen: at least 4 times. This time: March 3, 2013

How can I possibly write something about this movie?  It has overwhelmed me since the first time I saw it.
I was almost afraid to watch it this time, having read the play again, written an analysis and watched six other film versions, two of which I hadn’t seen previously, several of which are extremely good.
Would this hold up in comparison, in repetition, in analysis?
I see the flaws, I see the things I would do differently. Branagh shows scenes that Shakespeare didn’t include on stage but only through the actors’ telling.  This does not add depth.  Gertrude wouldn’t have worn a white bridal dress. She was a widow for heaven’s sake. Compared to the beautifully minimalist sets of Brook and Kline this production seems gaudy at times.  And although Kate Winslet is good as Ophelia she isn’t as convincing as Helena Bonham-Carter or Diane Venora.
But, oh, everything else. Julie Christie, though there is still more she could have done with the interpretation, is superb as Gertrude. Derek Jacobi is the best Claudius I’ve seen.  Michael Maloney and Nicholas Farrell bring more life to Laertes and Horation than any other actors.
And Hamlet?  Kenneth Branagh doesn’t play Hamlet.  He is Hamlet.  He isn’t speaking lines. He’s speaking from the heart. Every word.  As Branagh says in his intro to the DVD, Hamlet is playing him.  His scene with Ophelia after the To Be or Not To Be soliloquy is possibly the most powerful performance in film history. It is utterly deeply real.
“Natural” is the key word for the whole production. The entire cast makes Shakespeare sound like the way we all talk every day.
I’m not going to go on and on but here are a few more things I like about it: the snow, the four-hour length, the ghost’s incredible blue eyes, gorgeous mean Fortinbras (Rufus Sewell), the little train, the third word in “Words, words, words.”
10 * out of 10 aren’t enough so what can I give this? 100* of 100? No, I gave that to Henry V. How much better is this? Impossible.  This is simply in a class of its own.  I can’t be rational about it. I’m addicted to it. So let’s just say

495* of 500.

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