28 April 2013

Hamlet (Zeffirelli 1990)


Hamlet 1990
  • Director: Franco Zeffirelli
  • Based on book: Shakespeare.
  • Cast: Mel Gibson, Helena Bonham-Carter, Glenn Close, Alan Bates, Paul Scofield, Ian Holm, Stephen Dillane, Nathaniel Parker, Michael Maloney, Treavor Peacock
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Mel Gibson – Mad Max, Lethal Weapon 1-4, Braveheart, Conspiracy, Ransom, Bird on a Wire, The Year of Living Dangerously, Gallipoli  
    • Helena Bonham Carter – Harry Potter, Sweeney Todd, The King’s Speech, Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein, Keep the Aspidistra Flying (A Merry War), Howards End, Twelfth Night
    • Glenn Close – Mars Attacks, 101 Dalmatians,  Sarah Plain and Tall, Mary Reilly, House of Spirits, Hook, Meeting Venus, Dangerous Liaisons, The Jagged Edge, The Big Chill, The World According to Garp
    • Alan Bates – Zorba the Greek, The Rose, Women in Love, The Go Between, Gosford Park, An Unmarried Woman. The Mayor of Casterbridge, Georgy Girl, Whistle Down the Wind
    • Paul Scofield Henry V, King Lear, A Man for All Seasons,
    • Ian Holm - lots of Shakespeare, Lord of the Rings, Day After Tomorrow, From Hell and more
    • Stephen Dillane – The Hours
    • Nathaniel Parker –Stardust, Flawless, Inspector Lynley, Othello, Body Guard
    • Michael Maloney    The Young Victoria, Babel, Hamlet (Branagh), Othello, In the Bleak Midwinter, Henry V
    • Treavor Peacock   Sunshine, Henry VI Part Two, Henry VI Part One, Pericles
  • Why bought: Hamlet
  • Seen: First time: 1990’s at my mother’s (! She was a Gibson freak). Second time 2011. Now: February 2, 2013.


Any movie with Mel Gibson fills me with grave misgivings. Braveheart is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. But Shakespeare is Shakespeare and Gibson isn’t as bad as I had feared. There are fifty dozen other actors who would have been better but he was OK.  The rest of the cast was more hopeful. Helena Bonham-Carter is always strong and she gave a heartbreaking performance as Ophelia. Ian Holm did fine as silly old Polonius and Nathaniel Parker was a good Laertes.  Glenn Close isn’t a favorite of mine either but she was good here. Alan Bates is one of my favorites and he was a disappointment. Most of the time he just stood around watching the others with an evil twitch of the eyebrow now and then.  He’s done so much better in other roles.
One serious problem with this productions were the cuts in Ophelia’s and Claudius’ roles which made both characters much shallower than Shakespeare meant them to be (though as mentioned, Bonham-Carter put depth into her character through powerful facial expressions  between the few lines remaining to her).
Another was the change in order of key scenes. In the play the order is: 1) To be or not to be, 2) Hamlet’s confrontation with Ophelia, 3) Claudius’ announcement (not in Hamlet’s hearing) that he is going to send Hamlet to England, 4) the mousetrap play. Zeffirelli mixes them all up. His argument I’m sure is that it moved the story along more quickly. OK, but again at the cost of losing depth and character.
Still another is the rather boring insistence on an incestuous relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude. That has been the fashion but it doesn’t work.
Like all Zeffirelli’s Shakespeare films this one is lavish, frolicking and colorful with a cast of thousands (well a bunch of extras, anyway). The scenery is beautiful.
In the final analysis it’s in its way not a bad Hamlet. Hamlet light, with a lot of problems, but still Hamlet. Quite powerful.

6 ½ * of 10.


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