4 stars

Hamlet Movie Review


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The bipolar critical reception from top critics of Kenneth Branagh’s blisteringly placed adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has always boggled my mind.  It’s a gorgeous looking film with a great cast and a punctuated rhythm that makes even The Bard himself easy to follow.  So what if it was released six years after Mel Gibson’s turn in the role?  Branagh’s adaptation is far, far superior and imaginative in visual and lyrical strategy.  Why it never broke an easy $5 million is beyond me.  Now, with its arrival on Blu-ray, Branagh’s epic film gets another chance to shine in its construction.

Hamlet is a classic revenge tale of murder and tragedy and since Branagh delivers the unabridged version of the play, this four-hour Shakespearean drama can be a bit of an undertaking.  Yet, it never ceases to amaze with its brilliant gusto and top-notch design.  While there really is no need to recap the ghostly narrative, know that Branagh plays Hamlet, Kate Winslet is Ophelia, Julie Christie is Gertrude, Dame Judi Dench is Hecuba, and all are at the top of their form in delivery and emotion.  Co-starring Sir Richard Attenborough, Gerard Depardieu, Sir John Gielgud, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, Robin Williams, Rufus Sewell, and Billy Crystal, Hamlet’s cast alone should have garnered more interest in the film than it did upon first release.

Massive not just in length, but in scope, Hamlet feels beautifully real and continually dazzling with its attention to costume and art direction.  Its sets are fantastically colored with texture and rendered perfectly with large-scale precision on celluloid as this was the last film to shot in 70mm film.  Yet, most attention goes to Branagh’s performance as Hamlet.  Over-the-top and manic?  Sure, but Hamlet, as a character, is exactly the same way; he’s being driven mad by those politicking around him, so much so that he exaggerates his own feelings.  Once hailed as the next Laurence Olivier, Branagh may not be for everyone’s taste, but his passionate talents for performance, writing, and directing certainly positions him as meaty triple-threat – especially with Thor coming out this next summer.  Yet, inside the modern constructs of Hamlet, his performance comes across as a lot less neurotic and a lot more effective.

Mad genius.  Few have it and even fewer understand it.  This is Branagh’s territory; he constructs grandiose epic films.  Bombastic and striking, Hamlet doesn’t really stand a chance with high-nosed purists who challenge its 19th century backdrop.  That, of course, was the intent of the picture.  Branagh wanted Hamlet, the unabridged version, to appeal to the masses of the modern world.  One thing is for certain, this version of Hamlet will keep you engaged with its sweeping cinematography, courtesy of Alex Thompson, and scene-chewing cameos from some unexpected actors and the passionate swoonings of Branagh himself.

Kenneth Branagh’s version of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet may not be the dream come true project of 1996, but – from a 2010 perspective – it’s probably the closet most audiences will ever come to having a true and complete Shakespearean experience.

Component Grades
4 stars
4 stars
DVD Experience
4 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - August 17, 2010
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
: English
English: LPCM 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)

Warner Brothers presents the Blu-ray with book-style packaging that details, in a 35-page essay actor and actress biographies, trivia, and production details. For a film this literary, it is a nice and welcomed design that would be good sitting on a shelf next to ‘The Collected Works of Shakespeare’.

Visually the 1080p/VC-1 presentation suffers some from its fourteen-year-old production.  Flesh tones are not consistent on any level and primary colors tend to be a tad oversaturated in some scenes.  Green and yellow tones are vibrant, though. Hamlet's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track leaves a little to be desired, too.  The soundscape created for the film is a little too reserved for modern day home theatres.

Unfortunately, the disc is also pretty skimpy on serving up a new batch of bonus features. There is an introduction by Branagh, but this was apparently filmed for the last DVD release considering the physical appearance of its star. On the plus side, there is a loaded feature-length commentary by Branagh and Shakespearen Scholar Russell Jackson that is exhaustive in detail, but never without lack of interest.  There is also an originally released production featurette featuring interviews with the cast and an all too short 1996 Cannes promo.  The disc also includes the original theatrical trailer in SD.



  • Feature-length audio commentary with RSC chief-associate director and filmmaker Greg Doran, director of photography Chris Seager, and co-producer Seth Grant.


  • "Behind the Scenes" documentary (SD, 32 minutes)

Promo for the RSC (SD, 3 minutes)