Time: 242 mins.
Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay.
I have to say right up front that I am a big fan of Kenneth Branagh, so I generally like everything he does, especially his Shakespeare. I usually think twice before seeing films of the Bard's work mainly because they take a lot of effort to watch. But Branagh really makes them accessible to the mainstream with lush scenary, fabulous costumes and charismatic acting. I also find him very sexy, so that helps. HAMLET is a play that has everything sex, murder, ghosts, revenge, madness, swordfighting and mass bloodshed.
This is tragedy at its finest. It's supposed to be the geratest role in all of Shakespeare's works and I'm sure that's true. Hamlet is supposed to be sympathetic without being pathetic, which is not an easy task. No one has ever filmed the entire play before and there are many reasons for this. The main one being it's over 3 hours long and a depressing subject matter to sit through to begin with. On top of that, as in most stories, there is information given that isn't exactly necessary to the plot though it does help flesh it out.
I was a bit daunted when I initially sat down to see this film, but I have to say that up until about 20 minutes before the intermission, I was unconsious of how much time had passed. It's just the first half of the play is all talk and not much happens so after a while it begins to drag. The second half however, moves right along. Branagh was a fabulous Hamlet giving him the right mixture of anger and sorrow. I also really liked Kate Winslet's performance as Ophelia. Her scenes of dementia were truly painful to watch.
One of the best sequences in the film was the "To Be or Not To Be" speech which took place in a hall of mirrors. I don't even want to think about how difficult it must have been to shoot in there in order to make sure none of the equipment showed up in the reflections. The blocking and acting in this scene were worth the price of admission alone. Branagh truly knows how to use the camera and location to bring the words and meaning of the text to life.
The final scene where just about everyone dies (you should be ashamed of yourself if you didn't know this) is just chock full of excitement with a duel to the death and poisoned wine and swords. No one escapes unscathed, even the audience. I can't recommend this film to everyone since it's not easy to watch. But if you want to expand your mind and sample some truly fantastic storytelling, you won't be disappointed. This is Shakespeare at its finest. However, if you can't get a letterboxed version of the film, don't bother. This is one film that uses every inch of the screen to tell its story.