Hamlet [1996 Kenneth Branagh Film] Review

AKA: The Tragedy of Hamlet; Prince of Denmark
Genre: Tragedy/Historical Drama
Year Released: 1996
Distributor: Warner Bros./Castle Rock
Origin: Northern Ireland/England/USA
Running Time: 242 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG-13
Related Films/Series: The Rest is Silence, Hamlet (1959 Australian film), The Bad Sleep Well, Ophelia, Hamlet at Elsinore, Johnny Hamlet, One Hamlet Less, The Angel of Vengeance: The Female Hamlet, Hamlet (1980 BBC film), Strange Brew, Hamlet Goes Business, Hamlet (1992 animated version), Let the Devil Wear Black, The Banquet, Doubt (2009 Iranian film), Hamlet (2009 BBC remake), Karmayogi, Haider, Hamlet ADD, Hemantia, Ophelia (2018 remake)
For Fans Of: Macbeth, Henry V, Throne of Blood, Ran, Keita! Voice of a Griot, Strings; I, Timon, Corilanus, The Northman
-The Warner 2-disc release of Hamlet was used for this review.

-This version of Hamlet takes place in the 19th Century, unlike the original script, so don’t feel weirded out by some of the fashion and technology shown here. If you know about history, this take could be like Star Trek compared to other adaptations. Interestingly enough, the original dialogue is intact.

-Rant mode will be engaged for multiple points. This will involve some casting choices, how this version was overshadowed by another official adaptation involving a different work from the late Stratford-upon-Avon playwright, and to call out the hypocrisy of a particular fanbase while also bringing up how said movie is NOT a faithful adaptation (or an actual adaptation at all) of this specific Shakespearean Tragedy. Don’t read this review if you feel uncomfortable, but some of you could probably guess what will be discussed, given the subject matter.

-I will be using the anglicized name of Elsinore, Denmark for the play and script consistency.

-WARNING! Major spoilers will be mentioned for those who have never seen this adaptation or any official performance of Hamlet!
Fun Facts:
-This version of Hamlet was directed by Shakespearean-trained Northern Irish actor/filmmaker Kenneth Branagh. He also plays the title character in addition to being in the director’s chair. Branagh’s other directorial work includes the 1989 adaptation of Henry V, Belfast, Thor, and the 2015 live-action Disney remake of Cinderella. He also has a record of being nominated for 7 different categories at the Oscars, which beats out a three-way tie of Alfonso Cuaron, George Clooney, and even Walt Disney himself.

-Hilarious in Hindsight: Derek Jacobi seems to have a habit of playing characters named Claudius. Besides portraying that fratricidal usurper, he was also Emperor Claudius in I, Claudius and reprised that role in the unrelated Horrible Histories: The Movie. Also, this wouldn’t be the last time Jacobi has played an evil uncle who takes over his big brother’s kingdom since he was the English dub voice of Nezo in the Scandinavian/British marionette film Strings, which was also the first Western animated film I reviewed on my blog! Interestingly enough, this is Derek Jacobi’s 2nd filmed go-around in a film adaptation of Hamlet where he played the title character in the 1980 version. I don’t want to sound like Two-Face, but this is a strange cinematic case of someone living long enough to become the villain 16 years later.

-William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England in 1564. Nowadays, that town has over 30,000 people living there, and the closest major city to it is Birmingham. It is twinned with 5 other cities of that same name around the world in Australia, New Zealand, USA (Connecticut), and two cities in Canada in Prince Edward Island and Ontario. Yes, Justin Beiber’s hometown (Stratford, ON) is named after Shakespeare’s stomping grounds. [Shudders]

-Disney Fan Bonus: It’s weird knowing that The Genie was Osric, Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc. was a gravedigger, and Clayton from Tarzan was King Hamlet himself. This means I have reviewed two movies featuring Tarzan cast members after Brush With Fate (Glenn Close plays a main character).

-Scottish composer Patrick Doyle used his musical talents for this version of Hamlet. He has frequently collaborated with Kenneth Branagh. Some other films he scored for include Secondhand Lions, Quest for Camelot, Nanny McPhee, and Brave, among several other works.

-Ophelia is played by Kate Winslet. She was just in the Avatar sequel, Steve Jobs, and A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, but everyone should know her as Rose from Titanic. That’s right, she was in a box office flop by financial standards (no disrespect to Branagh) and would be in one of the biggest blockbusters of all time a year later!

-Hamlet (1996) was the last film in several years to use 70mm film, which has a different aspect ration compared to other materials. The next movie to use that film was the documentary Samsara, and the next narrative film to use 70mm would be The Master in 2012.

-The Hamlet story wasn’t an original Shakespeare creation. The character and story were based on the Scandinavian tale of Amleth, who avenges his father who was killed by his uncle, but deals with the cycle of vengeance. This was a direct inspiration to where both titular characters have similar names, and it was eventually adapted into The Northman. However, this isn’t the first story involving usurping and severely bloody family drama, but I’ll get to that later…

Despite my exhaustion from blogging, I managed to beat a record. The longest movie I ever reviewed was the documentary The Corporation, but I managed to watch something over an hour longer than that. It’s also the longest narrative film I have ever covered, so I guess I should congratulate myself this holiday season. Another thing is that it’s also my first time reviewing an official Shakespeare adaptation. I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of The Bard or am knee-deep in his catalog of plays (I know this sounds blasphemous to every English or drama teacher ever), but I do see some value in checking out his work. I have seen various adaptations of films of varying quality, read scripts, and ran tech for my university’s production of Twelfth Night that involved No Fear Shakespeare dialogue (basically modernizing the dialogue while still retaining the plot and essence of the original). Of course, one of his most famous plays is Hamlet. I read it while in school, but I wanted to refresh my memory for all the nuances after hearing good things about Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation. It was considered to be the best adaptation of this tragedy and Rotten Tomatoes ranked it 3rd in the best film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s works right under Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (Check out that take of King Lear if you can) and Branagh’s directorial debut of Henry V. I have a strained relationship with RT, but it did get my attention. I had wanted to watch and review this version for several months, and I finally found the time to watch, take notes, and compose my thoughts on this tragic tale. Some of those reasons include watching something related to Will S. to put on my reviewing portfolio, but also because I have a point to prove with this review, and it’s not me trying to look highbrow, so you all can relax for now.

Will this unadulterated cinematic take on this bloodstained tragedy from an acclaimed actor and director from Belfast, Northern Ireland be worth the accolades despite not doing so well at the box office? Is this worth anyone’s time? Should I be a reviewer and not some uninformed movie watcher that only checks out whatever Hollywood gives them? To be a reviewer or not to be a reviewer…

What? You thought I wasn’t going to make the most obvious reference there? Also, I’m aware that two major companies own the rights to this movie, but as I said before, it didn’t do well at the box office despite the big budget and A-list names attached. Looks like this movie and Clockers have something in common. Way to prove a point before you ever made it. [Sigh]

For those who have never read or seen an accurate adaptation, Hamlet takes place centuries ago in Elsinore, Denmark. The title character is the Danish prince who is beyond angry and sad that his father King Hamlet was murdered. On top of that, Hamlet Sr.’s little brother Claudius quickly marries the original king’s wife Gertrude who does no favors to the regent son that his mom would marry his uncle. Prior to this, his friend Horatio and two guards see the ghost of the murdered king. There are also geopolitical tensions with Norway since the Danish forces beat them in war after King Hamlet killed their king Fortinbras and his son Prince Fortinbras is itching to invade the kingdom to avenge his slaughtered father. Hamlet wants to investigate how his father died until his ghost tells them that it was none other than Claudius who poisoned him in the ear. He orders his son to kill his uncle to avenge him, but he has to figure out a plan to assassinate the usurper. In the meantime, he seeks the love of his sweetheart Ophelia when no one is looking, but her father Polonius (also the royal advisor) forbids her from seeing him. The vengeful prince plots his uncle’s demise while finding out if he’s truly guilty. Unfortunately, his rage fuels him to the point where he has bouts of madness. This tale is loaded with retribution, and the path is filled with bloodshed from all around.

Fun fact: This is the 2nd thing I reviewed that involves someone killing their own family members to take over the kingdom after the Colosseum Arc in Kino’s Journey and the 2nd example where a villainous uncle usurps control after Strings as mentioned earlier. That was a random observation, and I’ll go back to the review.

The production was immense, and most of the budget was put to good use. This feels epic with the massive scenery, castle scenes, and exquisite set design that has to be seen to be believed. You will feel like you were transported hundreds of years ago in Europe when you see the settings and costumes. Kenneth Branagh knows what he’s doing when making something feel grand, whether it’s his mainstream works or deep cuts. There was so much attention to detail with the location and props. They even filmed in a real castle in Oxfordshire, England as a substitute for Knogberg, and it was terrific. Everyone involved with the set and backgrounds deserves all the praise in the world. I have to give props for this version being the first film adaptation to use the full uncut script from Shakespeare himself instead of cutting corners or omitting characters, so you get an authentic feel despite this version taking place a few centuries after the original script. Despite the box office numbers, thus budget was well spent on the costumes, actors, several extras, sets, cameras, and other gears in this cinematic machine. Branagh has a Shakespearean background, and it really showed here. I liked his take on Prince Hamlet where he has an apt mix of venomous revenge, brutal sarcasm, and also a highbrow comedic side that didn’t feel incongruous with the setting or tone. Besides his directorial work, he has a vast catalog of movies and shows, and I was shocked that I had seen some works one would never expect someone like him would star in. He was in Wild Wild West and was the voice of Miguel from The Road to El Dorado, which I would’ve never guessed that and I saw that latter example in theaters when I was just a kid! Some of you might know him in Rabbit-Proof Fence, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, or Dunkirk (the Christopher Nolan version) among many others, and I’m focusing on the movies he didn’t direct. His performance as the Prince of Denmark is easily the best role I’ve seen him in so far. Derek Jacobi was impressive as Claudius. I like that he comes off as pleasant at first while having an underlying sinister behavior without getting hammy or resorting to evil laughter while also having a sense of remorse. Kate Winslet was always “That actress from Titanic” to me, but I was surprised by how well she played Ophelia. Her descent from a mild-mannered lady to a disturbed wretch was immaculate, and she has a surprisingly good singing voice while also sounding unsettling. Even Robin Williams did well. I know it’s not as memorable of a performance compared to his work in Aladdin, Good Will Hunting, or Hook, among several other films, but his supporting role was effective even if he was rocking a Pringle’s mustache and pork chops in that role. He even put effort into doing a British accent, even if I can still tell it was him. There are too many roles to mention, and most of the leading and supporting characters were impressive while respecting the play’s original text and essence. It was also interesting to see a diverse cast. Yes, most of the characters are white, but I noticed that there were multiple Black and Asian supporting and extra characters which made this take to be eye-catching without being self-congratulating or ticking boxes. Outside of that, I appreciate retaining the original undertones of Prince Hamlet having moments of realization where he could be a villain, such as when he attempts to kill his uncle while he’s praying, but backs off. The fact that the hero literally says he could be a villain a few times is rare and destroys any protagonist-centered morality since he eventually does horrible things like murdering someone by accident as he mistakes that person for Claudius. Even King Hamlet himself wasn’t this benevolent monarch since he had a skeleton in his closet in the backstory, which makes him no better than his little brother in a subtle way. Remember these points about how the protagonists are also guilty in their own rights because I will bring this up again to prove a point about a central theme of the Hamlet play.

Going slightly on a tangent, one character was previously omitted in many adaptations: Prince Fortinbras. The Norwegian prince doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but I thought he was the ensemble darkhorse in my opinion. Rufus Sewell (Dark City, A Knight’s Tale, The Tourist, etc.) did a swell job of playing this vengeful royal who wants to invade Denmark. He had this intimidating stare that would make Chris Hansen paralyzed with dread in how he wanted to get retribution for what went down. I know it was mentioned in passing, but I thought it was an excellent decision to mention that King Hamlet killed King Fortinbras and how Fortinbras Jr. wanted to avenge his father’s death. Pardon the Black Panther reference, but I could picture him saying to Hamlet “You’re not the son of the king. You’re the son of a murderer!” to his face like he was Killmonger himself. Even Hamlet himself named the Norwegian prince in his dying breath at the end because that rival royal would have every right to go after the Kingdom of Denmark to avenge his father’s death. It makes him such a good foil since he also has a murdered father, but his father’s killer didn’t face justice for his actions. Hey, Hamlet! Claudius is just like your dead daddy since both are assassins! Suck on that, sweet prince! I’m elated that they show Fortinbras as a character who is low-key justified for his invasion (despite being in a rival country), and his troops dismantle King Hamlet’s statue as the final image where the statue’s head obscure’s the character’s name, which was also used as the title screen in the opening. If Fortinbras were to be omitted, then the consequences would not have the full effect, especially when it comes to a full circle of the core theme of this play. Can’t you tell that I relish in this plotting choice? Even the Lawrence Olivier adaptation didn’t go that far, and I can see why people prefer Kenneth Branagh’s version over that one, but I think this is one choice loaded with so much fridge brilliance.

Sadly, this take on Hamlet is unfortunately upstaged by other movies, especially in the context of 90s cinema. Two movies really stand out to me if we’re talking about that decade, and if we’re looking at it from a 90s official Shakespeare adaptational standpoint, the movie that overshadows which also uses the original script albeit in a different time period is Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet which came out the same year. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s the one with Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo in a then-present-day American setting which many of you have seen at some point. This is the most famous 90s official Shakespeare adaptation hands down, and it’s still used in English, literature, and drama classes to this day at the high school and college/university levels. This movie would definitely upstage Branagh’s movie since it was pandering to the MTV Generation, featured music that was popular at the time, including some bizarre covers (why does that churched-up cover of “When Doves Cry” by Prince exist?), and banked on the stardom of two rising stars even though Claire Danes is nowhere near as popular as she was decades ago. To me, I find it to be gaudy, reaching, and highly dated in hindsight with the painfully apparent 90s fashion and cinematic style. Also, I’m definitely not a fan of Luhrmann’s directorial style with the plastic bombast, weird extreme close-ups, and fever-dream cinematography. I guess this version of Hamlet doesn’t have the pizzazz as Romeo + Juliet (to be clear, I’m still talking about the Luhrmann version), nor does it try too hard to reach teenagers and early twenty-somethings with its historical and pure acting approach. I’m not saying modern adaptations are bad on principle, but Romeo + Juliet was more Hollywood than trying to invoke Shakespearean aesthetics, even if it retains the Elizabethan English dialogue most of the time, even with the cars, California beaches, and guns being called “swords.” Hamlet (1996) would be overshadowed by the more serious approach instead of getting glossy and blasting a cover of “Young Hearts Run Free” while Mercutio is in drag. It would also be a shame if Kenneth Branagh’s film were obscured by another movie that involves a prince with a father murdered by a diabolical uncle that took over his kingdom earlier in that same decade and…OH WAIT! That actually happened.

Okay, I’m not playing around with what I’m about to say, and even though I mentioned this briefly in my Ringing Bell review, this is the perfect time to get into more detail. I know people have been saying this for years, and I know the directors mentioned this Shakespearean work as an influence, but I have to drop this truth bomb: The Lion King DOESN’T PLAY OUT LIKE Hamlet’s story despite some rudimentary plot points! I swear most TLK fans have never seen or read Hamlet in their lives. I’m not just talking about the adaptation I’m reviewing, which I won’t blame anyone if they haven’t seen it, but I’m talking about the original script or any faithful adaptation of William Shakespeare’s work, whether on stage, film, radio, or TV. Yeah, I’ve seen some of those memes like those “honest movie posters” or that scene of Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa walking while bopping their heads in the “Hakuna Matata” number, but there are word bubbles with quotes from the original play as the main character addresses the meerkat and warthog as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern years ago. Let’s be real here; the main reasons most people use that “Hamlet with lions” talking point are to make themselves look more cultured than they are, like invoking Shakespeare as some kind of trump card (as it may or may not feed into their collective superiority complexes) or bashing anyone who mentions Kimba the White Lion. You know that Hamlet isn’t the first story involving fratricidal uncles or sons avenging their father’s death, right? Not just the Scandinavian Amleth story, but you could make a case going back to the Osirian Drama in Egyptian mythology since that involved those plot points, so stop acting like William Shakespeare invented and trademarked that archetype or that the Disney corporation has achieved godhood. Also, the name “Lion King” was first attributed to the Malian king Sundiata Keita (specifically AKA’d as The Lion Prince and The Lion King of Mali in his heyday), who was born centuries before Shakespeare, but the creators of TLK haven’t acknowledged that part of African history or the Epic of Sundiata at large as an influence with the name or some of the story elements. When I read the original text or see Branagh’s adaptation, I don’t see Simba acting like Prince Hamlet (Matthew Broderick wishes he could act like Kenneth Branagh), Mufasa as King Hamlet, Scar as Claudius, Nala as Ophelia, and especially Sarabi as Gertrude. Watching The Lion King isn’t a replacement for Hamlet and I’m going to prove it by mentioning multiple plot points in the original story where I put these Disney characters in the original Shakespeare characters’ positions if it had the same essence as that centuries-old play. I won’t go after shallow details like the method of that murder or how it covers Simba growing up as opposed to Prince Hamlet there as an adult. Skip this if you don’t want to see massive spoilers! Don’t worry, these examples don’t involve me calling it “Hamlet-lite with Kimba cosplaying” since I’m only talking about Shakespeare’s story.

-Scar would wife up Sarabi, and she would willingly enjoy being her murdered brother’s mate. The keyword is “willingly,” so nice try to those who saw the 2019 remake!

-Nala would have a father and a brother, destroying that incest theory. Also, she would become mentally unstable after her father’s death and commit suicide by drowning.

-Speaking of this non-existent lion Polonius, Simba would be the one to murder him by mistake as he’s trying to go after Scar (Insert “It was an accident!” line here).

-Scar would be a lot more remorseful if he acted like Claudius. That and he wouldn’t need help from an oppressed group to usurp the throne. Also, Claudius doesn’t have a wounded left eye. Just saying.

-Mufasa would ENCOURAGE Simba to slaughter Scar, and his ghost would tell him exactly what happened with his murder. Also, Mufasa’s past actions would actually be shown as villainous. King Hamlet did some bad things, but at least he wasn’t doing fascist crap like apartheid and offscreen genocide to what that lion did to the hyenas.

-Going back to my observations about Prince Fortinbras, Mufasa would kill someone else’s father from a rival kingdom or territory, and this prince would exact vengeance by being the one to lead Pride Rock.

-Simba would kill Scar before being killed himself by this theoretical brother of Nala.

-If the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern joke about Timon and Pumbaa were to happen, it would mean that they would be covert spies who work for Scar to plot his downfall and exploit their friendship.

-Several characters will perish by murder or other forms of foul play to the point where the royal Pridelander bloodline is destroyed at the end while this animal Fortinbras accedes the throne. Or to parody the theme song: It’s the CIIIIIIIRCLE! THE CIRCLE OF DEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAATH!! Credit to Russell Kane for that joke.

This is what Claudius looks like in this version of Hamlet. I can name more similarities between Scar and Claw from Kimba the White Lion than I could with Claudius, other than the fact they are evil usurping uncle princes who kill their respective big brothers, but I would be a broken record at this point. Also, Derek Jacobi is an underrated yet incredible actor.

Those are just a few core examples among other plot points. Are you now aware that the plot similarities between The Lion King and Hamlet are shallower than the Kardashians? Actually, strike that. As much as I dislike that celebrity family, at least they aren’t trying to be profound or artsy. For those of you Lion King fans who have seen or read Hamlet, there should be one thing that should give you tremendous pause (besides those previous plot examples). It’s the cycle of vengeance. One could make a case that if King Hamlet didn’t kill Fortinbras Sr., he wouldn’t face any fateful/karmic retribution like what Claudius would do to him, which eventually leads to other bodies hitting the floor so much, they’d make Drowning Pool proud. It shows how even the good guys are guilty in their own right, and their attempts at vengeance destroy others in a kingdom of bloodshed. The Lion King franchise at large NEVER had that motif since Simba’s vengeance is consequence-free and full of plot conveniences (are we going to ignore the fact that he killed his own cousin Nuka in Lion King II?!) and that’s saying nothing about how Mufasa literally got away with segregating the hyenas in a food desert concentration camp like a G-rated version of Shark Island in German-occupied Namibia, Leopold’s Congo, or The Devil’s Punchbowl in Mississippi for example. Speaking of those racist atrocities: I find it fascinating that there were more Black people on-screen in this adaptation of a story that takes place in Scandanavia than in both The Lion King and Disney’s version of Tarzan taking place in Africa combined. Let that fact marinate in your brain for a minute. The cycle of vengeance is a core concept of Hamlet, which is why the tragedy works well instead of resorting to plot conveniences, protagonist-centered morality, or a gaping deus ex machina of the sun shining and the grass becoming green again after Simba regains the throne. Then again, many American movies don’t have that concept at all. To all you Lion King fans who say that they couldn’t emulate everything from Hamlet because it wouldn’t be appropriate for children or families, I will partially agree about that, but I’ve watched and reviewed animated works roughly PG and under that use the cycle of vengeance as a theme and plot point. The most recent example I watched was Ringing Bell last year where the main character wants to avenge his mother against that scarred wolf Woe and succeeds when he’s an adult, but let’s say his good deed doesn’t go unpunished in the end, which low-key makes the ending of that anime movie closer to Hamlet’s thematic elements than The Lion King ever did although for different circumstances. Strings features a few similarities to Hamlet besides Derek Jacobi playing the wicked uncle usurper since the dead “benevolent” king was committing colonization, genocide, and some of his men violated an opposing kingdom’s women under his watch, which makes the other side justified when they chant “DOWN WITH THE TYRANT!” as the original king’s statue is torn down in front of his own son. The last example involves Kimba the White Lion. In the episode where the poacher who shot Caesar returns to Kimba’s kingdom, the prince wants to murder him, but can’t bring himself to do that because he mentions that his people will get revenge on him if he did so (implying they would kill all the animals and human allies as retaliation) and “there would be no peace” any more. That indeed negates any excuse from Disney. Can we please stop acting like that 90s Disney movie plays out like a G-rated version of Hamlet when both stories don’t remotely have the same outcome other than some superficial story similarities? If you actually bothered to check out this version of Hamlet or other accurate adaptations, you would know Disney wouldn’t dare go all the way with these parallels. I could rant about how Mickey Mouse doesn’t always credit their sources and influences or how only white creators matter in the eyes of Disney and, unfortunately some people in their fanbase, but that’s for another day, even though I’ve talked about some examples before. Hamlet (1996) is second only to The Lion’s Share when it comes to movies that make me enraged at The Lion King franchise, although for entirely different reasons. One more thing, if you stab My Hero Academia for “ripping off” Sky High when Netflix announced a live-action remake (I’ve seen a ton of your collective tweets, and I’m not even a MHA fan), but you verbally thrash people who bring up the Kimba controversy, La Maison Noir and how the “Spirit” video copied imagery from it, or how “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is a work of plagiarism against the South African singer Solomon Linda, then you’re a freaking hypocrite.

Whew! I swear I’m done with these rants, but I have another one that’s completely unrelated coming up.

Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet isn’t always pure and could go to a nunnery if any flaws constitute going to such a place (yes, I know what that means, and I was making a joke). While the production is exquisite. There were some noticeable errors. Most of the slow-mo scenes get choppy in a weird 90s way due to the technology at the time. There were some really long fixed takes that can get annoying sometimes, or they are there to show how immense the sets are. Right before the intermission when Prince Hamlet makes that monologue before being exiled to England, there is some apparent green screening going on with the winter background and artificial ground as he makes that speech while the camera slowly zooms out. Most of the costumes were stellar, but the fencing armor during the final duel was poorly designed. They had fake six-packs on them, and there were “fencer nipples.” Seriously, costume designers? Keep in mind, this was released a year before the atrocious Batman & Robin happened, so I’m shocked the “bat nipples” argument somehow doesn’t apply to this movie. Some of the actors were better cast than others. Billy Crystal as the gravedigger was just weird. He did have enough levity without being his typical wackier or louder self, but his accent work was mediocre. Crystal’s New Yorker accent slipped in so much, even though he was trying to sound Cockney. Going back to the accents, I do think it is weird that a movie that takes place mainly in Denmark features so many people talking in British accents. Yes, it’s a UK-based production, and most of the actors are from different parts of the British Isles, but this fact was squirming in my mind while watching this film. The ambition of adapting the original uncut script adds to the authenticity, but there were also drawbacks. This involves Ye Olde English, and not everyone will understand every piece of dialogue, even with scenes that are clear with what’s happening. One example used a word that sounds insanely close to the N-word even though a character wasn’t talking about Black people, and the original word has a different etymology, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t awkward hearing that other word. The other fact is the length of the film. It’s 242 minutes which means that it’s over 4 and a 1/3rd hours long total. There’s a reason why it’s on a 2 disc set with an intermission after the first one. To put this into perspective, it’s an hour and a 1/3rd longer than Titanic, The Batman (2022), and an episode of Monday Night Raw. I can’t lie to you that it took me three days to watch the whole thing whenever I had free time from my other priorities in life. It’s literally twice as long as most current mainstream movies, so make sure you’re comfy if you plan on watching the whole thing in one sitting. I can’t even binge-watch something of that length at once. There’s a lot of story to cover, so please take reasonable breaks whenever you can. While many of the actors put in the effort, I was incensed that Charlton Heston was the Player King. In isolation, he didn’t do that bad of a job even though he could’ve improved on his accent work, but I hated seeing that bigot on my screen. Be honest, you know Heston for his work in The Ten Commandments, the original Planet of the Apes, or his infamous “from my cold dead hands” speech later in his life at an NRA convention. The last example is not the example that offends me the most. I’m insulted that this same person who was in the Civil Rights March in 1963 would eventually become some racist who complains about the lie of white people not having rights anymore, has no problem with the term “white pride”, and he went full five dollar Native American by having a blood initiation to the Miniconjou Lakota Nation despite having no Indigenous DNA to play a Native American character in The Savage, yet had a hissy fit when the Actors Equity group wouldn’t let a Caucasian play an Asian character in Miss Saigon (I’m aware of the unfortunate implications of that play, but my point stands). Double standards, much? I don’t care that he’s been in well-known movies, people like Charlton Heston make me sick with their attitudes and persecution complexes. Thankfully, he doesn’t show up for long, but knowing what I know about him prior to watching this version of Hamlet really didn’t help. Given the cast’s diversity, I’m surprised he didn’t try to lynch anyone there. I have reviewed movies and series with actors or directors I don’t like, but this is one of the few examples of the cinematic equivalent of (pardon the pro wrestling term) X-Pac Heat seeing Charlton Heston and the fact he was a character on the good side of the story makes this even worse. To put it in short, it’s where you hate the performer instead of the character, but here’s an article that breaks it down. I got enraged enough to lower my original score.

This adaptation of Hamlet was stellar and more people should check it out at some point. The production was epic, and the authenticity to back it up is astounding. Kenneth Branagh put a ton of effort into making this grand adaptation, even if he couldn’t get the financial returns or how this version of Hamlet was overshadowed. The storytelling was excellent with the tragedy and how revenge isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be when the heroes are shown to be capable of criminal acts or how other characters have some legitimate reasons for doing what they do (see: Fortinbras despite his limited appearances). I do wish some casting choices were better in hindsight, and this is an immense watch that people need to take in specific segments. It’s a shame that Romeo + Juliet was more popular than Hamlet (1996) as far as 90s official Shakespeare adaptations are concerned and how people to this day actually believe The Lion King has the same plot points and outcome when it’s just window-dressing at best with the Disney production and storytelling style with those guaranteed “happily after afters” while missing the point of the original story (Is it an adaptation or an original screenplay? Make up your minds!). Also, Hamlet wasn’t the first story to involve murderous family kingdom affairs, so calm down, everyone. With that said, I agree that this version of Hamlet is one of the better adaptations of The Bard’s works, which should be seen at least once. I can see Shakespeare fans appreciating this version and those who prefer serious films in general. It still blows my mind how Branagh would eventually direct the first Thor movie long after the fact when he used to make artsier films.

P. S. Isn’t it infuriating that someone could mention that a popular thing is influenced by an esteemed Caucasian creator and no one questions it, yet people always ask for receipts when others talk about other sources or specific similarities from the creations of other ethnic groups that were denied influence or were blatantly copied? That is some subtle prejudice if you think about it.

P. P. S. Have a Happy Holiday season, everyone. I hope everything is going well with you, even if I was a bit of a Grinch despite writing a positive review.

Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you’re a Shakespeare fan.
Subtract 1-3 points if you’re not a fan of old English dialogue.
Subtract 1-5 points if you need constant action, comedy, or spectacle in your movies.

-Accurate adaptation of Shakespeare’s text
-The portrayal of the cycle of vengeance by several characters
-Incredible set design

-The 4+ hour run time can be treacherous
-Some production issues like the slow-mo, green screen, and the fencer nipples
-Some actors weren’t so great or were loathsome off-stage (Charlton Heston)

Final Score: 9/10 Points

Content Warning: This version of Hamlet got a PG-13 rating which makes sense. There’s some mild language sprinkled in and some innuendo that you would realize if you knew about old English. Many people die in the course of this movie by either poison, guns, or swords. Polonius’s corpse has a massive bloodstain puddle in the room, but that’s as worse as the gore gets. The subtext of Prince Hamlet and Ophelia having a sexual relationship is in this particular text because there are brief sex scenes in flashback, and at one point during Ophelia’s commitment to the kingdom’s asylum, she lies on her back and thrusts the air as she yearns for her prince to return. The cycle of vengeance is a significant theme and backdrop throughout the story and if you seriously think this is going to have a happy ending or the good guys get carte blanche to do whatever they want, then you will be in for a rude awakening!

-Curtis Monroe

All photos and videos are property of their respective owners and are used under US “Fair Use” laws. Hamlet (1996) is property of Warner Brothers and Castle Rock. The DVD cover is from Best Buy and is property of Warner Brothers and Castle Rock. The screenshots are from YouTube and property of Warner Brothers and Castle Rock.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s