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Murder and violence, revenge and intrigue, sex and desire, paranoia and madness - the heady brew of passion and emotion that makes up Shakespeare’s tragedy. The story of the Prince of Denmark, who seeks revenge for his father’s murder at the hands of his perfidious uncle, delves into fundamental issues about humanity and the nature of being. What, it asks, does it take to be a human being?

Review by Louise Keller:
Kenneth Branagh’s complete work of Hamlet is complete is every sense. The fullness and richness of Shakespeare’s words are interpreted in the most meaningful way through superlative performances from a star-studded cast from both sides of the Atlantic. Branagh is amazing as Hamlet. His Hamlet narrows the fine line between sanity and madness, and conveys an energy and sweeping passion that mesmerises. Branagh IS Hamlet. It is hard to imagine a more satisfying performance. Branagh’s decision to traverse time from medieval to the 19th century allows opulent decor with the crisp elegance of the military court. The 70mm wide-screen epic commands a grandeur that the beautiful Blenheim Palace setting, (standing in for Elsinore,) endorses. The magnificent State Hall, with its mirror-covered walls, captures the intrigue of the powerful royal court, with hidden passageways and anterooms personifying the murky dark underside. Branagh’s rich amassment of talent offers experienced Shakespearian actors and some well-known names who surprise. Charlton Heston is commanding and brings his own regal filmic background to his role of the Player King; Billy Crystal is wonderful as the Gravedigger. But the inclusion of several ‘stars’ such as Gerard Depardieu, John Mills, John Gielgud and Jack Lemmon, who are cast in small, incidental roles, somehow detracts rather than adds. Patrick Doyle’s music soundtrack is complex and diverse, with three principal thematic musical ideas on which the score is built, reflecting the characters of Claudius, Ophelia and Hamlet. It always enhances, never overshadows, yet stands alone as a wonderful musical work. Hamlet’s theme is complex, yet fluid and soars with optimism and hope; Ophelia’s theme offers a simple melody that is gentle, childlike and unhurried. The weaving together of these two themes in the song ‘In Pace’ is ethereal, aided by the magnificent voice of Placido Domingo. A cinematic treat to cherish." Paul Fischer:
"No play of any era has been treated more in cinema than Shakespeare's Hamlet. After all, it does have such strong elements of pure drama that make it compelling: power, sex, greed, treachery, murder and a ghost. What more can you want? And why its fascination to a continuing generation of film makers and audiences? Perhaps because no writers today can create such complex drama as skilfully as the Bard, and this new treatment by Branagh is further evidence of the power of the play and what it is that film can do to such a work, in the right hands. This new treatment by Branagh is further evidence of the power of the play and what it is that film can do to such a work, in the right hands. Shot in 70mm, Branagh has given Shakespeare's wordy treatment a truly epic feel, and has achieved this through use of music, clever cutting and a variety of meticulous camera angles, that give the piece a genuinely cinematic feel. Glorious to the eye, this Hamlet boasts a collage of memorable performances, from Branagh himself, who conveys the tormented Dane with such power, to Jacobi's extraordinary performance as Claudius. Winslet does a fine job as the thankless Ophelia, and out of the Americans, Charlton Heston does wonders as the Player King. Hamlet is not as dry, dark and sombre as one might expect. With lashings of colour, raw energy and imaginative camerawork, this Hamlet is a movie in every sense of the word, and brings the mastery of Shakespeare to a new and exciting life.

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The music you can hear on this page (if you have the right stuff) is track 6 from Patrick Doyle's CD soundtrack of Hamlet, "Give Me Up The Truth."

"I had such a happy experience throughout this assignment. The quality of the performances along with all the technical crafts were a constant inspiration." Patrick Doyle, composer


CAST: Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Gerard Depardieu, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, Rufus Sewell, Robin Williams, Kate Winslet, Richard Attenborough, Brian Belssed, Richard Briers, Judi Dench, Reece Dinsdale, Ken Dodd, Nicholas Farrell, Ray Fearon, John Gielgud, Rosemary Harris, Ian McElhinney, Michael Maloney, John Mills, Simon Russell Beale, Timothy Spall

DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh

PRODUCER: David Barron

SCRIPT: Kenneth Branagh (based on the play by William Shakespeare)


EDITOR: Neil Farrell

MUSIC: Patrick Doyle


RUNNING TIME: 242 minutes (plus intermission)



(2 hour version June 12, 1997)



(Available in Abridged 2 hour version and Director's Cut - 4 hour version)

See Paul Fischer's interviews with Kenneth Branagh and Charlton Heston in Interviews

and Louise Keller explores the background to the making of the film in Features

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Tell Louise: louisek@mpx.com.au

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