Film poster for Hamlet
|Directed by||Kenneth Branagh|
|Produced by||David Barron|
|Written by||William Shakespeare|
|Music by||Patrick Doyle|
|Editing by||Neil Farrell|
|Studio||Castle Rock Entertainment|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Release date(s)||December 25, 1996|
|Running time||242 minutes|
Hamlet is a 1996 film version of William Shakespeare's classic play of the same name, adapted and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars in the title role as Prince Hamlet. It co-stars Derek Jacobi as King Claudius, Julie Christie as Queen Gertrude, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, Michael Maloney as Laertes, Richard Briers as Polonius, and Nicholas Farrell as Horatio.
The film is notable as the first unabridged theatrical film version of the play. The complete film runs just over four hours. The longest version of the play prior to the 1996 film was the 1980 BBC television version starring Derek Jacobi, which runs three-and-a-half hours. A shorter edit of the Branagh film, approximately two-and-a-half hours long, was shown in some markets. Although unabridged in dialogue, its setting is slightly modernised with the inclusion of 19th-century architecture, clothing and weaponry. Blenheim Palace is the design for Elsinore Castle, and is used for exterior scenes.
Hamlet also has the distinction of being the last major dramatic film to be filmed entirely in 70 mm film as of 2010.
The film features a large number of celebrity cameos. The servant Reynaldo, who appears only briefly in a single scene and is often left out of abridged versions of the play, is played by French star Gerard Depardieu, and other appearances by well-known actors include Charlton Heston as the First Player, Robin Williams as the courtier Osric, Richard Attenborough as the English Ambassador, Brian Blessed as the ghost of Hamlet's father, Jack Lemmon as Marcellus, the palace guard, and Billy Crystal as the gravedigger. The flashbacks and dream sequences even allow for celebrities appearing in non-speaking roles as characters who are only mentioned in the play: Sir John Gielgud and Dame Judi Dench play Priam and Hecuba (mentioned in the monologue performed by the First Player on his arrival at Elsinore), John Mills plays "Old Norway", uncle of Fortinbras (mentioned by Claudius and Voltemand), and British comedian Ken Dodd plays Yorick.
In addition to the film stars, the play also features British theatre stars in tiny roles: for example; Simon Russell Beale plays the second gravedigger, Ray Fearon plays the guard Francisco, Ian McElhinney is Barnardo (Bernardo), Rufus Sewell plays Fortinbras, and Jeffrey Kissoon plays Fortinbras's captain.
In a radical departure from previous Hamlet films, Branagh set the internal scenes in a vibrantly colourful setting, featuring a throne room dominated by mirrored doors; film scholar Samuel Crowl calls the setting "film noir with all the lights on." Branagh chose Victorian era costuming and furnishings, using Blenheim Palace, built in the early 18th century, as Elsinore Castle for the external scenes. Harry Keyishan has suggested that the film is structured as an epic, courting comparison with Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments and Doctor Zhivago. As J. Lawrence Guntner points out, comparisons with the latter film are heightened by the presence of Julie Christie (Zhivago's Lara) as Gertrude.
Despite using a full text, Branagh's film is also very visual; it makes frequent use of flashbacks to depict scenes that are either only described but not performed in Shakespeare's text, such as Hamlet's childhood friendship with Yorick, or scenes only arguably implied by the play's text, such as Hamlet's sexual relationship with Kate Winslet's Ophelia.  The film also uses very long single takes for numerous scenes.
Branagh's own interpretation of the title role, by his own admission, was considerably less "neurotic" than others; gone completely was the Oedipal fixation so prominently featured in Olivier's 1948 film. However, some critics, such as Leonard Maltin, felt that Branagh's performance was at times too "over-the top" (in the scenes in which Hamlet pretends to be insane, Branagh portrayed the Prince as manic; other members of the court are visibly exasperated by his behavior).
Hamlet received largely positive reviews. It has 94% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert awarded the film four stars, comparing it to Laurence Olivier's lauded 1948 version while Janet Maslin praised both the film and Branagh's performance. 
Some critics, notably Stanley Kauffmann, declared the film to be the finest motion picture version of Hamlet yet made, and online film critic James Berardinelli has gone so far as to declare the Branagh Hamlet the finest Shakespeare film ever made, rating it as the fourth best film of the 90s and one of his top 101 favourite films of all time.  The New York Review of Books praised the attention given to Shakespeare's language, "giving the meter of the verse a musician's respect,"; Branagh himself says his aim is "telling the story with utmost clarity and simplicity.".
The film did have its detractors however, with Lloyd Rose of The Washington Post calling it "the film equivalent of a lushly illustrated coffee-table book" and Desson Howe writing of Branagh's performance "...the choices he makes are usually overextended. When it's time to be funny, he skitters over the top. When he's sad or touched, he makes a mechanical, catching noise in his throat."
Hamlet was not a success at the box office, playing on fewer than 100 screens in the U.S. and earning only $5 million in its limited American run.
Despite lacking commercial appeal, Branagh's Hamlet received four Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction and Best Original Score. The nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay raised some eyebrows, since Branagh had made little alteration to Shakespeare's text beyond transposing two or three speeches. However, Roger Ebert, in particular, defended the choice, noting, "A screenplay is something more than dialogue ... Screenplays also cover construction, scene choices, character treatments and, in the case of a writer-director like Branagh, the visual strategy."
|Award||Category||Recipients and nominees||Outcome|
|Academy Awards||Best Art Direction||Tim Harvey||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||Alexandra Byrne||Nominated|
|Best Original Score||Patrick Doyle||Nominated|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Kenneth Branagh||Nominated|
|Art Directors Guild||Excellence in Production Design Award||Tim Harvey & Desmond Crowe||Nominated|
|BAFTA Awards||Best Costume Design||Alexandra Byrne||Nominated|
|Best Production Design||Tim Harvey||Nominated|
|British Society of Cinematographers||Best Cinematography Award||Alex Thomson||Won|
|GBCT Operators Award||Martin Kenzie||Won|
|Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards||Best Picture||-||Nominated|
|Camerimage||Golden Frog||Alex Thomson||Nominated|
|Empire Awards||Best British Actress||Kate Winslet||Won|
|Evening Standard British Film Awards||Special Jury Award||Kenneth Branagh||Won|
|Nastro d'Argento||Best Dubbing, Male||Massimo Popolizio||Won|
|Motion Picture Sound Editors||Music Editing||Gerard McCann||Nominated|
|San Diego Film Critics Society Awards||Best Actor||Kenneth Branagh||Won|
|Satellite Awards||Best Motion Picture Costume Design||Alex Byrne||Nominated|
|Best Supprting Actress - Drama||Kate Winslet||Nominated|
|Best Art Direction and Production Design||Tim Harvey||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography||Alex Thomson||Nominated|
|Best Original Score||Patrick Doyle||Nominated|
A 2-Disc DVD was released in the United States on the 14th of August, in 2007. It includes a full-length commentary by Branagh and Shakespeare scholar Russell Jackson.