Hamlet

Commentaries on film, video and television productions based on the play by William Shakespeare:

Hamlet (1948)
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Director Laurence Olivier; featuring Olivier, Eileen Herlie, Jean Simmons

Hamlet (1969)
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Also called Shakespeare's Hamlet
Director Tony Richardson; featuring Nicol Williamson, Judy Parfitt, Anthony Hopkins, Marianne Faithfull

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1980)
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Director Rodney Bennett; featuring Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom, Patrick Stewart, Lalla Ward

Hamlet (1990)
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Director Franco Zeffirelli; featuring Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Alan Bates, Helena Bonham-Carter

Hamlet (1990)
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Director Kevin Kline; featuring Kline, Dana Ivey, Brian Murray

Hamlet (1996)
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Also called William Shakespeare's Hamlet
Director Kenneth Branagh; featuring Branagh, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi, Gérard Depardieu

Hamlet (2000)
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Director Michael Almereyda; featuring Ethan Hawke, Sam Shepard, Kyle McLachlan, Diane Venora, Julia Stiles, Bill Murray

COMMENTARY | MOVIES

Hamlet 2000 scene

Ethan Hawke's Hamlet meets his not-so-ghostly father played by Sam Shepard in the 2000 film.

The Post-modern Hamlet

For a completely different take on Hamlet for the new millennium, check out the 2000 version starring Ethan Hawke and a number of other movie stars in modern dress.

This is a cold, stylish, high-tech Hamlet that is nonetheless moving at times in a postmodern way. Hawke watches himself and Ophelia on video screens. He replays his opening lines to "To be or not to be" over and over before finally committing himself to the soliloquy. His father's ghost (Sam Shepard) appears on his balcony and enters the condominium to hug him.

Hamlet and Claudius (Kyle McLaughlan), who's taken over his later father's Denmark Corporation, play a cloak-and-dagger game with limousines, pistols and videos. Dialogue is chopped up and reconstructed at will. (Hamlet says, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy", a change I can agree with in this context.)

Oddly it seems natural to have these Y2K characters spouting Elizabethan blank verse, which says something about the universality of Shakespeare's writing. Not all the actors handle it as well though. Hawke is a credible slacker-era Hamlet, especially in his intimate moments, but when he has to deliver speeches to other characters he sounds like he's reciting, as do Julia Stiles as Ophelia and Bill Murray as the decent but not too bright Polonius. Murray has been praised for his low-key, conversational delivery, but for me the lines just don't work this way. His famous advice for a son sounds like a man trying to remember a shopping list.

Stand-outs are the underrated McLachlan, who speaks his weasely lines with charming conviction and expresses much more with the subtlest of facial gestures, the inestimable Liev Schreiber as Laertes, and the formidable Shepard. No strain as the most convoluted thoughts are delivered with the naturalness of twenty-first century dialogue. You can believe they are saying it just as they thought it. You forget it's Shakespeare you're listening to.

In the end this ultramodern Hamlet reverts to old-style dramatics with a fencing match not too different from the stab-and-poison massacre of the original. I expected something more revelatory of our own times. But maybe that's the too-easy point being scored by this Hamlet, that despite the change in trappings, people never change.

In the meantime I'll continue my impossible quest for the perfect Hamlet. There's this Christopher Plummer performance that's supposed to be the best ever put on film but is hard to track down.... And Ian McKellen's great TV production of 1970.... And Richard Burton's 1964 triumph....

— Eric

COMMENTARY | MOVIES

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Hamlet
(2000, DVD)
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Related pages:

Author
William Shakespeare

Play
Hamlet

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Julius Caesar

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Hamlet
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The Oxford Shakespeare (hardcover)
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