Friday, October 19, 2007


I'm not sure I should admit that age 37 I've never really seen Hamlet before. I never read it in high school or university. Never saw it on stage before. And the only time I've sen it as a movie was when Mel Gibson was trying to prove a point about his acting chops and Glenn Close was playing his mother, although they were barely a few years apart in age.

But I've just finished watching Kenneth Branagh's version of Hamlet. It was a spur of the moment pick-up when I was back home during the summer because I had read so many positive things about his adaptation. I don't think it did well at the box office, but then again, it's more than four hours long. That's kind of pushing the endurance of your average film goer. Then again, this is the unabridged Hamlet. If I understand, every single scene from the play is here. No cuts for time or the smallness of the audience's bladder. Here it is, in all its glory.

I'm not going to review Hamlet. That would be very much folly as people a lot smarter than I have written at length about the play. For that matter, here's Roger Ebert reviewing the movie. And I agree with just about everything he said. I think much of what kept me away for the play was that it was supposedly so complex, so very dreary and that Hamlet was a whinny git. And really, who wants to spend hours watching a whinny git, be it either on stage or at a movie theatre.

And yet watching this, Branagh doesn't play Hamlet as git. There is vitality, passion and anger. There is surprising humour scattered throughout. And the look of the movie is astonishing. It's beautiful to look at, even if I confess to not always completely understanding what the actors are saying. This isn't a dumbed down Hamlet. Keep up if you can. If you can't, well, lord knows there are enough articles written about Hamlet over the years. Go find one, watch the movie and hit pause when you get confused.

I'll likely watch it again in a few months time, if for no other reason then I'm dying to hear Branagh's commentary, which I imagine will be fascinating. I also have to watch a couple of other related movies. I bought Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead a couple of weeks ago, but wouldn't watch it until I finished with Hamlet first. I remember loving it when it was released back in the early 90s. I also remembering seeing my friend Jaap star in a production of it at MUN, along with Aiden Flynn, that remains some of the most fun I've ever had at a play. It's a nice companion piece to this, I think.

And since I'm apparently on a Branagh kick, I'll have to rewatch Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing. Henry V is awesome. Ado is pretty good, although watching Keanu Reeves and Michael Keaton trying to do Shakespeare is a touch painful.

Cathy's going to go mad, I suspect. I think she got burnt out on Shakespeare studying English at MUN and here I am, wanting to watch hours of it on TV.


Edward G. Hollett said...

Bravo on buying Branaugh's Hamlet. I saw it in the Oxford theatre in Halifax shortly after it came out.

The Oxford was a big Deco palace with huge seats so it was meant for these longish movies. Even so, there was an intermission so you could get up and go to the john or just make sure you weren't in danger of some blood clot developing.

Like all Branaugh's Shakespeare's this movie is beautiful to look at and the actors give life and vitality to what many of us see as old, dead stuff.

Interesting to see your reeaction to some of the movies. Henry V is brilliant through and through. Ado has some fine moments, but i found keaton a charming bit of comic relief.

By contrast, Hamlet showed how jack lemmon simply couldn't handle Shakespeare at all. A reallt weak moment early in the movie. Much like watching calista Flockheart torture Midsummer Night's Dream.

These are brilliant movies based on brilliant writing well acted and beautifully shot. The themes are enduring and cross cultures well.

Check out the recent Othello too. There's another one I read in high school but didn't appreciate until i saw it properly performed by fine actors in a movie version.

towniebastard said...

Ah, the Oxford. I love that theatre. One of the nicest I've ever been in. Would that St. John's have something so nice.

I didn't find Lemon so bad as Williams. And it's not that he couldn't read the lines, it was more a "hey look! It's Robin Williams!" moment that jerks you out of the play.

I believe Branagh has an adaptation of "Sleuth" out right now which is getting mostly good reviews. He really can be a good director. "Dead Again" is a classic. But there are times his ego gets too far in the way, like when he directed Frankenstein. That was a horror, but not in a good way.

Anyway, I shall have to try and track down Othello as well now.

Pat the Wench said...

I saw Aiden and Jaap in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead ... I was in the same English class as the director, Terry I-forget-his-last-name.

If I ever regain the attention span to get back into Shakespeare I'll check out the Branagh version, especially since I totally agree with your "whiny git" assessment.

towniebastard said...

You mean you're charming and lovely children won't give you four hours to sit down and watch TV that doesn't involve people running around dressed like a purple dinosaur?

Clare said...

Love Hamlet, and love Branaugh's take on almost anything Shakespeare. By the by, while you are on a Branaugh kick you should check out him as Shackleton in (wait for it) Shackleton. It's a great story in of itself, one of my favourite polar tales.

Pat the Wench said...

You ought to know that I have instilled my hatred of Barney in my children ... my oldest actually likes the Shopping Bags, oddly enough.

babe in boyland said...

Hey, Townie. Branaugh's Henry V was indeed great. The opening scene, with the prelates sinister legalistic pandering to Henry's desire to claim the French throne and his cold, brutal, cynical acceptance of their endorsement. beats the s**t out of the same scene done as comic idiocy in Olivier's take.

I wasn't keen on Falstaff - I love Robby Coltrane but I'm a sucker for Chimes at Midnight.

I didn't mind Calista Flockheart in MND; she's light, but so is the character. Othello is terrifying and enraging, just what it should be to the 20th Century mind.

I love Shakespeare - other than Tolkien (YES, I *will* discuss the two in the same breath), he is the only writer in English who looks on his characters with a truly compassionate eye. He can't treat Shylock as your stock Jew, can't leave Claudius as a typical flat fratricide, can't think of Caliban as a simplistic monster - as soon as his attention turns to the character, he can't resist seeing the world from the character's perspective. Amazing.