(Air Date: Week Of 1/22/97)
I've always had a problem with Hamlet - great poetry, boring play. Even with the usual editing, it's two hours plus of a depressed wishy-washy wimp irritating people, sometimes fatally. Every so often, though, I'd slog through the Olivier version just to see if there was something I'd been missing. Turns out, there was, Kenneth Branagh, whose prince is many things, but wishy-washy ain't one of them. THIS melancholy Dane has flesh, blood and sinews. O, and sex. Branagh's Hamlet fairly reeks of testosterone. And not the erstaz stuff that Mel 'when in doubt, shout' Gibson tried to foist off on us. No, THIS is the real thing.
Kenny-boy also liberates the humor that I've always suspected lurked just beneath the surface but, even with the gravedigger or Osric, never quite escaped. This is Hamlet the way Shakespeare intended, as entertainment for the masses, NOT the private domain of culture vultures, who have been hogging it for far too long. And it's done with such energy that nothing less than four hours can contain it.
The four hours, by the way, feel much shorter than Olivier's two and a half.
The casting is inspired. Julie Christie's first brush with the Bard as Queen Gertrude looks like she's been at it all her life. Kate Winslet's mad Ophelia is both pathetic and scary. Derek Jacobi almost makes treacherous Uncle Claudius sympathetic. And Michael Maloney makes the unflashy role of Laertes a presence to contend with. I think it's his huge dark eyes looking askance as his world unravels that does it.
Even the stunt casting works. Mostly. For example, Billy Crystal's Brooklyn accent not only works, but shines. On the other hand, Gerard Depardieu speaks English the way he speaks French, which is to say, as though he were swallowing a bowl of mush. Still, he accquits himself better than Jack Lemmon, who, as a musician, has no excuse for not understanding the rhythms involved in speaking poetry.
Them aside, this as perfect a Hamlet as I can imagine. The Cliff Notes on this one are: it's great, but you may want to pack a lunch.Copyright 1997 Andrea Chase
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