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What's the story?
This version of Shakespeare's great tragedy is a grand accomplishment -- the whole of the play without edits. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. The dead King, Hamlet's father, walks the land and Fortinbras of Norway threatens war. Hamlet's mother has abruptly married Claudius, the new King and Hamlet's uncle. Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh) is despondent and curses his mother. Meanwhile, Hamlet's lover, Ophelia (Kate Winslet) is ordered by her brother, Laertes, and father, Polonius, to avoid Hamlet. The ghost confirms that Claudius is the murderer, and Hamlet puts on a play in hopes of outing him. In a fury, Hamlet kills Polonius. Ophelia goes mad and commits suicide. Laertes challenges Hamlet to a duel in which Laertes himself is killed and Gertrude is mistakenly poisoned. Then Claudius is killed by Hamlet and Hamlet felled by a poisoned sword. Fortinbras enters and, before he dies, Hamlet pronounces him the most likely candidate to win the crown.
Is it any good?
There are a number of reasons to recommend this rousing adaptation of Hamlet. The cast is superb, and as both director and actor, Kenneth Branagh shines. The actors don't simply recite lines; they discover the meaning of Shakespeare's words as they speak them. Shot in widescreen 70mm, the movie looks gorgeous. Most versions of Hamlet are heavily edited, and this is a chance to see the entire play in all its glorious complexity.
Here is a Hamlet with all of his rage and confusion on display, a young man seeking revenge for his father's murder who hesitates to take action, his inner turmoil mirrored in the court's politics. The intricate, unedited plot runs over four hours, but the rewards are great for viewers who stick it out. Some of the celebrity cameos hit (Billy Crystal as the First Gravedigger), while some completely miss (Jack Lemmon as Marcellus), but the leads are uniformly brilliant. A bravura accomplishment and a great addition to any collection.
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