365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

290. “Hamlet”: The play versus the movie

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In comparing Shakespeare’s stage play “Hamlet” to its screen counterparts, one must remember one very important thing: it is all interpretation. No stage production of the play can ever be perfect, and therefore no film of it can ever be perfect. It is important to recognize that film is very different from the stage and that an open mind is vital to appreciating and comparing Shakespeare on stage and on screen. Many purists find the film adaptations to be unpalatable, and other enthusiasts love them. It will always be polarizing.

That said, there are two film adaptations which I will cover: one being Zeffirelli’s version and the other being Branagh’s, as they are probably the most well-known.


The Good: A traditional medieval setting, which gives the film a dark and edgy look. Also notable is Helena Bonham Carter’s beautiful portrayal of Ophelia.

The Okay: Mel Gibson as Hamlet is perhaps slightly miscast, but he does have several “aha!” moments throughout the film which rescue his performance.

The Bad: Moving entire scenes around to suit the preference of the filmmakers. While it was a bold choice to change when certain events occur, it is a little too clumsy for anyone who has read the play or who knows it well enough to be expecting an order to things.

The Ugly: An Oedipal take on the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude. It is an idea beaten far past its breaking point, and it added nothing to the story but a very awkward moment that is not dealt with afterwards at all.


The Good: A full and uncut version of the script (with lines even inserted from the First and Second Folios to create an “ideal” version), incredible visuals, and a fantastic cast overall.

The Okay: Branagh is fantastic as always, a capable director and a marvelous actor, but lost a little control during the final scenes and went over the top.

The Bad: For some, the uncut script may qualify as this, but at least there is an intermission.

The Ugly: The sheer length of the film makes it almost impossible to sit through in one take. Unless you’re me.


The Good: A brilliant script, two fantastic female roles, a fast-moving story, and beautiful language that has outlived the centuries.

The Okay: The scenes with Fortinbras. No one really cares about Norway…we’re in it for the gore.

The Bad: The tendency of Hamlet to appear misogynistic when he probably is not – though scholars debate over this pretty frequently. I tend to take the side of “he’s not a pig, he’s just stressed out right now”.

The Ugly: The tendency for critics to think there is an Oedipal subtext. Even if it were there, it would probably be way more obvious than Shakespeare wrote. Also, old news. At least for us new readers.


Written by Caroline Mincks

July 18, 2010 at 12:10 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , , ,

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