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CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

1948, 1969, 1980, 1990, 1990, 1996, 2000

Hamlet in First FolioPage from First Folio, 1623
Publication details ▽ Publication details △


First performed
1601 or 1602

First published
1603, in the First Quarto

Literary form


Writing language

Author's country

Five acts, 4,042 lines, approx. 29,000 words

Hamlet 1990 scene
Hamlet (Mel Gibson) and his mother Gertrude (Glenn Close) share more than a moment in the 1990 film.

Hamlet the Sexy

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

In the 1990s began the trend of having major movie stars taking on Hamlet. Keanu Reeves played the part on a Canadian stage and Jude Law did it in London. And on film we've had Mel Gibson, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Ethan Hawke and others as Hamlets. (Though, to be fair, at least some of them were classically trained actors with deep stage experience.)

The first example was the Franco Zeffirelli-directed Hamlet of 1990 with Gibson, Glenn Close as the queen, the always delightful Alan Bates as the king, and Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia (yet another pale wisp of woman for the role).

Critical reaction was mixed but I've always appreciated Zeffirelli's attempts to bring high culture to a wider audience, as previously seen in such films as Romeo and Juliet (1968), which featured actual young people as the young lovers, and the luscious La Traviata (1982), which even non-opera lovers could enjoy. He is often criticized for sensualizing his classical material, rather than taking the expected cerebral approach. But I'm not sure you couldn't say the same about Shakespeare and the great opera composers in their own times. If passion is what it takes to make great work accessible to contemporary audiences, then why not?

His Hamlet is as accessible as any of his previous work. And it seems to help with his movie star actors as well. Gibson is obviously not a classical actor, he's a bit out of his depth here, but he throws himself into Hamlet with gusto, as do all the other movie star actors (Bates having the most impressive theatre experience of this cast.)

A trailer for Franco Zeffirelli's sexy and violent Hamlet starring an earnest Mel Gibson.

It's a sexier film than most versions—with the prince practically humping his mother in their bedroom scene.

It's also more violent than most—with blood all over the court in that final scene. But surely this makes more sense than bloodless death scenes in other productions. Everyone is indeed killed off in the last scene of Shakespeare's play. And killed people bleed.

I'd bet Shakespeare would approve. This movie drew many people to the theatre who had never seen the bard's work before, and to their surprise they were vastly entertained. That's got to be good.

— Eric


CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

1948, 1969, 1980, 1990, 1990, 1996, 2000