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Hamlet (1996 film): Wikis


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Film poster for Hamlet
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Produced by David Barron
Written by William Shakespeare
Starring Kenneth Branagh
Derek Jacobi
Julie Christie
Richard Briers
Michael Maloney
Kate Winslet
Billy Crystal
Gérard Depardieu
Robin Williams
Charlton Heston
Jack Lemmon
Rufus Sewell
Timothy Spall
Reece Dinsdale
Brian Blessed
Richard Attenborough
Nicholas Farrell
John Gielgud
John Mills
Judi Dench
Ken Dodd
Music by Patrick Doyle
Cinematography Alex Thomson
Editing by Neil Farrell
Studio Castle Rock Entertainment
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) December 25, 1996
Running time 242 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $18 million
Gross revenue $4,708,156

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.[1]

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.


The film's budget was $18 million. Hamlet was filmed in Panavision Super 70 by Alex Thomson. It was the last feature film shot entirely in the 70mm film format, at least as of 2010.[2]


Aspects of the film's staging are based on Adrian Noble's recent Royal Shakespeare Company production of the play, in which Branagh had played the title role.[3]

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."[4] 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.[5] As J. Lawrence Guntner points out, comparisons with the latter film are heightened by the presence of Julie Christie (Zhivago's Lara) as Gertrude.[6]

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. [7] 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 was screened out of competition at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.[8]

Hamlet received largely positive reviews. It has 94% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[9] 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.[10] [11]

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. [12] The New York Review of Books praised the attention given to Shakespeare's language, "giving the meter of the verse a musician's respect,"[13]; Branagh himself says his aim is "telling the story with utmost clarity and simplicity."[14].

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"[15] 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."[16]

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,[17] 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

DVD release

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.[18]


  1. ^ Alternate versions
  2. ^
  3. ^ Crowl, Samuel "Flamboyant Realist: Kenneth Branagh" in Jackson, Russell The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
  4. ^ Crowl, p.227
  5. ^ Keyishian, p.78
  6. ^ Guntner, pp.122-123.
  7. ^ Keyishian, p.79
  8. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Hamlet". Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  9. ^ "Hamlet (1996)". Rotten Tomatoes. IGN Entertainment, Inc. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  10. ^ "Roger Ebert's Review". 
  11. ^ "Janet Maslin's Review". 
  12. ^ "James Berardinelli's Review". 
  13. ^ O'Brien, Geoffrey New York Review of Books 6 February 1997, cited by Samuel Crowl, "Framboyant Realist: Kenneth Branagh" in Jackson, Russell The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film (Cambridge University Press, 2000) p.228
  14. ^ Branagh, Kenneth Introduction and Notes to Much Ado About Nothing: Screenplay p.ix cited by Crowl, p.228
  15. ^ 'Hamlet': Kenneth Branagh's Inaction Flick
  16. ^ Branagh's 'Hamlet': Not to Be
  17. ^ "Ebert on Oscar Nomination". 
  18. ^ Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet

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