Sunday, January 15, 2017

To Be or What?

Remember how I was kind of complaining that Shakespeare movies abridged the text too much, leaving out everything but the "quotes"? Kenneth Branagh's 4-hour Hamlet (1996) does not have that problem. It doesn't have another problem, common to the more complete filmed Shakespearean plays: It is not stagey, it is cinematically rich. This is pretty much the best movie Shakespeare.

It stars Branagh as the Big Ham, of course. Blenheim (pronounced "bleh") Palace plays Elsinore, and the Duke of Marlborough has a small role as Fortinbras' captain, I suppose as the bribe to get him to let them use the castle. Derek Jacobi is King "I" Claudius, and Julie Christie is Queen Gertrude. Throw in Brian Blessed as the Ghost, and some amazing small parts for Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Judi Dench. Gerard Depardieu, Richard Attenborough, and Jack Lemmon of all people, and you've got quite a cast.

I don't really know what else to talk about - Kate Winslet, perhaps, stands out as Ophelia, pre- and post-madness. Branagh intercuts some of Hamlet and Polonius' discussions with flashbacks to Hamlet and Ophelia naked in bed, so that subtext is made solid text. That might have been the only time he showed something no explicitly in the text.

I feel like this was an almost perfect Shakespearean movie - All that Shakespeare dialog, clear and understandable, filmed like a movie, not a play, looking as good as it sounds. Works for me.

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