Cinematic Hamlet Review

Author: Patrick J Cook

Shakespeare film fans out there may want to make some space on their shelf for this special item. This is a look at four of the most famous Hamlet adaptations to film, namely the Olivier (starring Olivier himself); the Zeffirelli (starring Mel Gibson); the Branagh (starring Branagh) and the Almereyda (starring Ethan Hawke).

The four films are varied and different; while the first two feature old-school settings, the Branagh updates things by a few centuries. And the final film is part of the modern-set Shakespeare’s made popular by the Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet in the 90s. The last three of this series were also made fairly close together with barely five years between them, whereas Olivier’s was back in 1948.

This book looks at the differences in the adaptations through performance, direction and setting as well as the text selected/cut in each (with only Branagh’s going the whole hog and ending up at four hours in length).

It soon becomes obvious that the four films have significant differences on viewing (never mind what may lie underneath). The Almereyda film takes us to contemporary New York and into the world of business and media. Business is of course how we now see the modern battles of power in the world being fought (so is an obvious choice) and as we’re now a post-modernist society, the use of media (through photography, video and film) is how the plot points are conveyed.

The book draws on contrasts and familiarities in all. It isn’t essential reading, but it’s worth it for fans of these films and of the texts.

Steven Hurst

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