The RSC puts a modern-spin on Shakespeare's Hamlet, in this filmed for television version of their stage production. The Prince of Denmark seeks vengeance after his father is murdered and his mother marries the murderer.
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Hamlet, son of the king of Denmark, is summoned home for his father's funeral and his mother's wedding to his uncle. In a supernatural episode, he discovers that his uncle, whom he hates anyway, murdered his father. In an incredibly convoluted plot--the most complicated and most interesting in all literature--he manages to (impossible to put this in exact order) feign (or perhaps not to feign) madness, murder the "prime minister," love and then unlove an innocent whom he drives to madness, plot and then unplot against the uncle, direct a play within a play, successfully conspire against the lives of two well-meaning friends, and finally take his revenge on the uncle, but only at the cost of almost every life on stage, including his own and his mother's. Written by
John Brosseau <email@example.com>
Still being of school age, and having to learn Shakespeare almost constantly for the last four years (which is very off-putting of any writer, no matter how good), I didn't really expect to enjoy this film when my English teacher put it on; I thought it'd be the typical English lesson movie: bad acting, awfully shot, badly edited and the dreaded awful old dialog, so, as you can tell, I was all but ready to go into a coma from the go. However, I watched and, much to my disturbance, found myself not only paying attention, but actually enjoying the movie too. This production of Hamlet is possibly one of the best drama movies I have seen in a long time- and it really brings to life what I expect Shakespeare wanted his plays to be like (well, with the difference that this is cinema) much better than my English teacher harking over the text ever possibly could. The story is good, the dialog seems to flow with an unexpected grace that is far from boring (though a little hard to keep up with if you aren't used to Shakespeare's language) and even the smallest parts are performed with a skill you wouldn't expect; mainly, perhaps, due to the staggering number of cameos this movie has. Brian Blessed and Charlton Heston are as great as you'd expect these two veterans to be, even in such small parts, but it is Robin Williams as Osric and Billy Crystal as the Gravedigger who really stand out, giving such minor parts an unexpected zest, as well as offering some comic relief amidst the tragedy.
The main stars, of course, are also wonderful. Kenneth Branagh excels as Hamlet, bringing not only the confusion and pain required to the roll, but also a sort of sardonic air which plays beautifully in the comic scenes, making the movie as a whole much more watchable. The other major players are also good, but it is Kenneth Branagh who stands head and shoulders above the rest in the title role.
The set pieces, too, are often quite stunning, giving a refreshing change to the danky old castle corridors we're used to seeing in Shakespeare productions, as well as a real sense of the country around them.
Of course, the movie, taken as a movie in its own right, is not without faults, but no major ones (the pacing is the only real problem I can think of offhand, as well as the prose for anyone not used to, as I said, Shakesperean language) and, especially when compared to the sort of Shakespeare productions I'm used to seeing in class, it really is quite brilliant. It's even made me rethink my previous typical teenager stance on Shakespeare, that his plays are boring (I came to the conclusion it's not the plays that are boring, merely the teachers who recite them in class). If only they made all of his plays into movies such as this one, English students in schools everywhere might have a higher opinion of the Bard.
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