A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this version of Hamlet is played to suggest an incestuous relationship between the Prince of Denmark and his mother, Queen Gertrude. In one angry scene, Hamlet mimes sexual intercourse (fully clothed) while berating Gertrude for marrying his uncle before his father was cold in the grave. His mother, in turn, kisses her grown son suggestively.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
The King of Denmark is dead. Wasting no time, Queen Gertrude (Glenn Close) marries Claudius, the dead man's brother and the new king. Prince Hamlet (Mel Gibson), son of the dead king, is horribly morose; he curses his mother and suspects his uncle of murder. When the ghost of Hamlet's father appears to him and entreats him to avenge his murder, the angry, heartbroken son sets out to prove Claudius' treachery, but is hindered by his increasingly troubled psychological state. This film version captures all of the high-drama of Shakespeare's timeless play as characters within the castle Elsinore's walls are tossed about by deceit, revenge, secrets, lies, loyalty, passion, heartbreak, murder, suicide, painful self-realization, and more.
Is it any good?
A brusque but engaging spectacle, the movie features a streamlined script, plenty of action, and an excellent supporting cast. Mel Gibson plays the deranged prince with vigor and gives the well-known tragedy teen appeal. This version strips down the engaging story so kids will understand it easily. For example, Hamlet and Ophelia's (Helena Bonham-Carter) relationship is made less ambiguous. Lavish sets and costumes lend the movie an old world feel that ideally suits the impassioned revenge story.
However, this adaptation loses some of the texture of the original. There's no political intrigue, nothing's rotten in Denmark except Hamlet's fragile mental state. By emphasizing Hamlet's emotional and rational dissolution, director Franco Zeferelli's (Romeo and Juliet) focuses on the Freudian sexual tension between mother and son. Gibson delivers a performance that is more than passable, but he lacks the verbal expressiveness of Kenneth Branaugh in his 1996 Hamlet.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the limitations and advantages of bringing a Shakespeare play to the screen. Did you find the play's arcane language more accessible? What about special effects? Why do you think the play's running time was cut in half? Did that help or hurt the story?
- In theaters: January 18, 1991
- On DVD or streaming: May 12, 1995
- Cast: Glenn Close, Helena Bonham Carter, Mel Gibson
- Director: Franco Zeffirelli
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 135 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: Parental Guidance Suggested
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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