The Moorish general Othello is manipulated into thinking that his new wife Desdemona has been carrying on an affair with his lieutenant Michael Cassio when in reality it is all part of the scheme of a bitter ensign named Iago.
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.
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This ludicrous and inept film is certainly the most misguided version of "Hamlet" to ever reach the screen. Branagh's approach to the material can only be described as vulgar; going to such lengths as depicting Ophelia in a straight jacket, having Fortinbras' army appear suddenly on the horizon (looking very much like the climax of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail") when the palace is apparently guarded only by Francisco (who shouts the very un-Shakespearean cry of "ataaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack" before being gunned down), and multitudes of star cameos that harken back to the days of Jimmy Cagney's Bottom and Mary Pickford's Kate.
Branagh chose to set his film in an Edwardian setting but at the same time decided to employ an almost uncut text, so that frequently the dialogue that is firmly rooted in Elizabethan mentality makes no sense in the context that it is being performed. And Branagh does not concern himself with such textural subtleties as the ambiguous nature of Hamlet and Olphelia's relationship, treating the audience to a vulgar nude sex scene between the couple that tosses any ambiguity right out the stained glass window.
The uncut text does allow Branagh to indulge in his favorite cinematic pastime: more footage of Kenneth Branagh. This is never so apparent as in the "How All Occasions Inform Against Me" speech that ends the first half of the nineteen hour film (at least that's how it feels), which attempts to play to a dramatic crescendo along the lines of Gone With The Wind's "I'll never be hungry again." This may serve Branagh's ego, but it does not serve Shakespeare or the speech: when I saw the film in the theater, I leaned over to my companion and snickered "Great Moments With Mr. Hamlet." Branagh saves the funniest and most tasteless moment for last, when he attempts to out-do the Olivier film and its justly celebrated death of Claudius by having Hamlet jump from off a high tower onto the monarch, impaling him with a sword. Branagh's Dane does in the king by heroically throwing an apparently magic rapier from across the palace to run through Claudius' heart with a super hero's bulls eye. The only thing that saved the moment from being unbearably maddening was that it was so off-the-wall funny.
While this film has been praised in some quarters as a serious depiction of the tragedy, it is in fact nothing but a star-studded display of a once-talented filmmaker being overtaken by his own narcissism. The Emperor has no clothes, and this Hamlet has nothing to offer but a few unintended laughs and the appalling sight of one man's ego out of control.
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