1996, Movie, PG-13, 242 mins


Whatever Kenneth Branagh's motives for filming Hamlet in its entirety -- recouping his somewhat tarnished reputation as the next Olivier, perhaps -- he's managed to pull off a considerable coup de cinema, and the result is by turns brilliant, lavish, garish and awful. Of course, Branagh himself stars as the Danish prince with revenge on his fevered brain, and he's jettisoned yesterday's impotent brooder in favor of Hamlet the manic, peroxide-blond showman. The peculiar thing about Branagh is that while he clearly thinks he wants to challenge his audience -- and a four-hour, unabridged Hamlet is certainly a challenge -- he panders incessantly to the groundlings, hamming it up while downplaying the text's subtitles as if he's uncertain of the Bard's continuing appeal. Or is it the viewer's intelligence he doubts? Expository scenes are crushed under a barrage of visual detritus -- unnecessary flashbacks abound -- and too often the immortal dialogue is either ridiculously dramatized or overwhelmed by the aggressively stirring soundtrack. The film is, however, simply gorgeous to look at, and a number of the performances are outstanding, particularly Derek Jacobi as ulaudius, Richard Briers as a not-so-nice Polonious, and Kate Winslet, whose Ophelia is wondrously affecting. leave a comment

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