Wednesday, August 15, 2007


It's here! It's here! Finally, at long last, it's here.

Branagh's Hamlet has been finally been released on DVD!

I know this movie has its detractors, but I love it. A word-for-word adaptation of what is arguably Shakespeare's greatest play on screen. I saw it during my final undergrad semester at UF, when I was, conveniently, taking a course in Shakespeare. (Oddly, Hamlet wasn't on the syllabus that semester.) Anyway, it played at the Hippodrome for a week or two, then it went away, then it came back in the summer due to popular demand. I actually paid real money to sit my considerable bottom in a movie theater seat for 4+ hours at least two, and I think three, times. I was fortunate that, at that time, I had no issues whatsoever understanding the language because I had been immersed in Chaucerian Middle English and Shakespearean "modern" English for two semesters. I probably could have spoken in iambic pentameter if I had been asked.

I love this movie!

First, the movie is absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography, the sets, the costumes, the actors: It's all just so pretty! Turn the sound off and just let the scenery be your wallpaper for a while.

Second, the acting is really quite good. Yes, Branagh-the-Director allows Branagh-the-star to be a little over-indulgent, but come on, it's Hamlet. One should be allowed to chew a little scenery. My Darling Boy is a big fan of Kate Winslet (as should all straight males), and I love her Ophelia; she's just heartbreaking in her mad scene. Charleton (Chuck!) Heston as the Player King recites the Fall of Troy with the Voice of God, and I'm spellbound. Derek Jacobi's choices as the murderous uncle are intriguing: neither ruthless nor terrified, he walks the tightrope between them with grace and skill. The biggest revelation to me is Billy Crystal. You know, that City Slickers/Fernando guy. In playing the Grave Digger, Crystal speaks the words of the Bard effortlessly. You would think he's a genuine Shakespearean actor, all trained up with the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's one of those rare moments of stunt casting that just works. Oh, and Rufus Sewell as Fortinbras? Smokin'. Hot.

Last, and in no way least, it's freakin' all of freakin' Hamlet! By William Shakespeare! Unedited! I could just close my eyes and listen to the language.

There are some failures. Ok, in my opinion, really just two.

Jack Lemmon is/was a great actor that perfectly embodies the late-mid-20th-century American male. His performance in Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross as the latter-day Willy-Lomanish Shelley Levene is heartbreaking and riveting. He's utterly relatable as Ensign Pulver in Mr. Roberts and as Felix Unger in The Odd Couple. He should never have been allowed near Hamlet; he's clearly out of his comfort zone, and he's jarring and unconvincing.

Robin Williams is a great-ish actor, depending upon his facial hair. Unfortunately, in Hamlet, he looks like a refugee from the Emerald City. I'm usually too distracted by his appearance to pay attention to his performance. My overall impression is that he's too uncomfortable in his over-the-top costume to give a good performance. Also, I think his part would be better played by a 14-year-old page boy.

Now, all these opinions are based on opinions I formed upon seeing the movie 11 years ago. I can't wait to watch it again to see if I've changed my mind. We'll see.

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