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Hamlet Film Review


After reading the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of Hamlet, what could be better than watching the Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet in its entirety? Nothing could be better, which is why “Branangh’s splendid film is nothing less than a monument to the highest art of the Western canon” (Stone 3). Moreover, the film version enhances my understanding of Hamlet by providing a “visual hypertext for Hamlet” (Stone 4). My review seeks to highlight two strong positive aspects of Branagh’s film.

            I could not help but notice “the international cast [that] includes lots of famous Hollywood stars” (Stone 4). While these stars had “American” accents, their vast experience and enormous talent overcame the difficulty of Shakespearean speech. One particular actor who greatly supplemented my understanding of Hamlet is Billy Crystal. When reading the actual text of Hamlet, I glossed over the gravedigger scene. The gravedigger has such a minor part in Hamlet, so I did not read as closely as I should have. Billy Crystal’s acting unequivocally showed me how farcical the gravedigger’s lines are. Billy Crystal is not just a “nice surprise as the gravedigger” (Corliss 2), but he truly brings the entire scene to life! His New York accent aside, “Billy Crystal is winning as the riddle-telling gravedigger” (Stone 4). While Shakespeare gave the gravedigger comical lines, “Billy Crystal practically juggles skulls as the gravedigger who speaks of poor Yorick” (Maslin 1-2). Crystal is not the only great performer in Branagh’s Hamlet. Branagh himself gives quite an amazing performance. Unfortunately, Branagh’s voice cannot compare to Richard Burton’s sound recording of Hamlet. Nevertheless, while Branagh “may not do soliloquies better than his predecessors […] his film quite overshadows his rivals” (Stone 3). Part of the reason is due to Branagh’s immense experience from taping “a full-length Hamlet for BBC Radio in 1992” (Stone 3). Branagh decided to be unique by demonstrating “an extraordinarily sympathetic awareness of how reasonable Hamlet’s scruples are” (Rafferty 2). Also interesting was how Kenneth Branagh made the entire dialog in Hamlet seem colloquially mellifluous. “Branagh is a whiz at making the poetry colloquial and intelligible; he spits out the 400-year-old verse like a rapmaster” (Corliss 2).

            The inclusion of Fortinbras is another positive factor that Branagh’s film embraced. While both Olivier's and Zeffirelli's filmed versions of Hamlet do not include Fortinbras, “Branagh would allow no such disrespect of the text” (Stone 7). Branagh tries to demonstrate the unexpurgated version of the world’s greatest play. In doing so, Branagh includes Fortinbras in accordance with Shakespeare original intended purpose: to show that the man quickest to action shall be the ultimate winner. Unlike previous cinematic versions, Branagh shows “The political dimension of the play [that] is fully realized as never before with climatic visual images that only film can create” (Stone 8).

Along the lines of being a foil to Hamlet, Fortinbras is a military man, who does not hesitate when his honor is at stake. Thus Hamlet’s main tragic flaw of inability to take action is justly exposed. Kenneth Branagh’s genius is revealed by his emphasis on Fortinbras’ actual arm. Unbeknownst to many viewers, the word Fortinbras can be translated as “strong arm”, which again represents military strength and power. While Fortinbras may seem like a minor character, Branagh’s inclusion of him makes a large difference.

            While Branagh’s film is not perfect, the positive aspects far outweigh the negative aspects. I have only stated two of the strongest aspects of the film. The educational value of the film perfectly complements the text, for it enhances and elucidates Shakespeare’s intended message.



2006 Philosophy Paradise