Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet

Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 adaptation of Hamlet is a great way to enjoy the popular Shakespeare play. While I found the film to be quite lengthy, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing a film version of the story I only knew a little bit about from reading an excerpt of Hamlet in high school. I think Kenneth Branagh did an excellent job in making the screen play into a movie. Everything in every scene couldn’t have been done more perfectly. Better yet is the cast, with actors like Kenneth Branagh himself, as Hamlet, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, Billy Crystal, and Robin Williams among many other great actors.
The tragedy starts with just that, tragedy, the death of Hamlet’s Father, the king. The movie starts out with the watchmen on duty seeing an apparition of some kind, which they later learn is Hamlet’s deceased father. The watchmen decide to tell Hamlet of this strange apparition after Hamlet’s mother, the queen’s wedding to her brother in law. While the wedding is going on and after the ceremony, Hamlet is clearly distraught. The queen is marrying Hamlet’s father’s brother only two short months after his father’s sudden death.
The watchmen tell Hamlet of the strange apparition that is haunting them nightly and Hamlet is curious, he wants to see it for himself. In my favorite scene of the entire movie, Hamlet runs through the foggy woods that night, yelling, screaming for his father’s tragic passing. He gets a response from his father’s spirit; his father’s voice speaks in the most bone chilling voice. He tells Hamlet that his death was “most cruel and most unnatural” and he makes this very clear, saying it more than once. He says his brother snuck up on him while he was asleep in the orchard and poured a leprous mixture into his ear.

The King’s own brother committed the deed that made him fall ill and die almost immediately. Before disappearing into the night, the apparition says to Hamlet “Remember me! ” This experience is of course very emotional for Hamlet. Hamlet wants to avenge his father’s death. He decides the only way to wear on the new king’s conscience is to put on a play that is basically the story of his father’s betrayal by his brother and the queen for having married him. While this is going on, everyone is saying Hamlet has gone “mad” because of his erratic behavior, but attributes it to his being love sick over his girl friend, Ophelia.
Hamlet loves Ophelia, and she loves him, but her father forbids her to see him any longer. Hamlet is enraged by this, as he is many things Ophelia’s father says and does. In the heat of an argument, Hamlet kills Ophelia’s Father. Ophelia is devastated, goes insane, and eventually ends up drowning herself. Ophelia’s brother returns from France to find out his father has been slain by Hamlet and Ophelia has killed herself. Needless to say, Ophelia’s brother is furious. Ophelia’s brother and the King plan for him and Hamlet to spar. They plan to poison the cup Hamlet drinks from during the fight, so he will undoubtedly die.
While fencing, the King insists that Hamlet drink for doing well, but he refrains and says he will wait until later. Next, the queen offers him a drink, but again he refuses, so she drinks out of the cup that is poisoned instead. The fight turns quite vicious and Ophelia’s brother is struck down. At the same time the queen has fallen to the floor, dying, saying she had been poisoned before she took her last breath. Ophelia’s brother confesses that the King is the one who poisoned the cup in order to kill Hamlet. Hamlet and Ophelia’s brother make amends before he dies. Enraged, Hamlet goes after the King and feeds him the poison.
The King dies. Then Hamlet dies of poisoning. The Norwegian crown prince and his army storm the castle in order to assume the throne, wasting no time. They are astounded by the royal deaths. I thought the movie had an excellent cast, all great actors that did a wonderful job. Kenneth Branagh made a good Hamlet. I liked Hamlet’s character and hoped the best for him, even though I did not agree with some of the things he did. I felt badly for Hamlet, as I also did Ophelia when she took her own life out of misery. I think it is sad they did not end up together; but then again that’s the point, it’s a tragedy.
I loved the original King, although he wasn’t in the movie much in life form, he seemed like a fair and wise King. The actor who played the king did a fantastic job in the foggy woods scene. All in all the entire cast was very convincing, so much that you either came to love or hate the characters. I think there are many themes in Hamlet. The one that stands out the most is the importance of thinking before acting. Hamlet does and says many things he might not if he took some time to first “cool down”. It seems as if he is too hasty to act and this often gets him into trouble making terrible things happen that he can’t simply take back.
Another lesson to take from Hamlet is that nothing is forever and nothing is certain. Hamlet wrestled with the validity of the experience of his father’s apparition, he questioned whether or not it really happened. For some things in this life there is no hard science. Sometimes the answers are not always clear; you just have to trust your own judgment. I really enjoyed watching the movie version of Hamlet. Quite honestly I thought turning a play into a movie would be difficult to make interesting, but it was done extremely well. I would love to go to a real live play version of Hamlet.
I think the experience of seeing the acting up close on a stage would be totally different then watching the movie because the audience is able to get more involved in the story, but the movie is a good way to go if you don’t have the opportunity to see the play. The minor special effects in the movie really help to draw you in, but it’s nothing significant that couldn’t be done on stage as well. Hamlet is a classic story that has stood the test of time. I’m sure it will never stop being reenacted and adapted for movies in generations to come.

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