Bloody Beautiful Secrets: On Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet”


Kenneth Branagh has been known as one of the most faithful directors in film to Shakespeare’s works. He has directed films such as “Much Ado About Nothing” and ‘Othello” with A-list actors and legendary Shakespearian talent. But out of all the films that I had seen, “Hamlet” was not only his most faithful, but also his longest out of all of his adaptations. In fact, maybe too faithful. Traditionally in film making and adaptations of literature, lines and scenes are cut that are nonessential to the story being told. That doesn’t mean that those scenes and lines were dashed out by the adapters simply because that they didn’t care for them, but that the film would be too long. Branagh did not cut a single line or scene from the original play, and even added in scenes making the film four hours long. Typically a film today at most would be two and a half hours long.  But dedication is a double edge sword.

In “Hamlet” it  has been two months since King hamlet has died, but his ghost had been seen by the guards at night ever since his brother married his widow. His son, Hamlet is still in mourning of his father when the same ghost tells him that his uncle Claudius had murdered him to marry his queen. Hamlet swears an oath of vengeance and spies on all inside the inner circle of the court by pretending insanity, while true insanity seeps into the court.  One major addition to the story was that there were additional scene showing prince Fortinbras’s pursuit onto Denmark adding to his character.


Every single actor was immersed in the language as if it was how they spoke naturally. There was a since that every actor wanted to be there, and were hand picked to play each of the characters on the screen.   Kenneth Branagh starred in his own film as the main protagonist Hamlet, and he was relishing the role. He played a very complex angle of Hamlet. He was melancholy one minute, and comical the next. He also portrayed Hamlet as a not the typical heroic character. Hamlet is usually played as a sympathetic character, where as in this version he could be cast as an anti-hero due to his nasty behavior to others.  Kate Winslet played the ever complex Ophelia in one of the best depictions of the character as of yet. She played her as a sympathetic woman who is slowly descending into insanity by those around her using her left and right. Claudius, played by Derek Jacobi, was painted from a lest villainous light, and more of a complex individual who loved his wife even though he murdered his brother.  There were handfuls of cameos by famous actors throughout the film; the best of which has to be Charlton Heston with his raw and powerful depiction of the “First Actor”.  The one cameo that seemed a bit out of place was Robin Williams. Though he seemed to be enjoying just being there and his Shakespearean tongue was surprisingly poise, how he portrayed Osric seemed to be a little too happy to be there.  Even Billy Crystal as the gravedigger was a pleasant surprise to the cast. Overall these were the best players to portray such a raw story.

One may argue that the setting and sets was a character. The cinematography was astoundingly beautiful with all the mirrors and reflection of light from the gold panels. But there were some unwelcomed jump cuts here and there, especially the “play within a play” scene.  The setting was a welcomed change from typical medieval sets to a late Victorian era where all the costumes were just as elaborate as the people around them.  There were secret tunnels, doors, and tunnels all around the castle showing how there are so many secrets in the castle


Overall this was a fantastical look at a tragic play. The passion and dedication that went into this piece was astounding and ironically bright setting around them. This was a film that should be highly recommended to any Shakespeare fan, but with a little warning of it’s length.



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