Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Hamlet (1990)

Franco Zeferrili’s Hamlet (1990) dispenses with Fortinbras and ends with ninety seconds of stately music and a blank screen.  Deadly serious throughout, as perhaps a tragedy should be, the film removes or minimizes other narrative subplots and focuses on the title character, played here by Mel Gibson.  The film reminds us that Gibson was a fine actor before his personal extremisms intruded.  He is effective in the role, serious and intense and young.  The film develops the role of Ophelia (Helena Bonham Carter) beyond what it is in the play.  She is second in importance to Hamlet, and her madness and death give the film occasion for dark pomp and grief, while in the play her madness and death were matters more of passing information. Just as Gertrude and Claudius show shock for Hamlet’s feigned (or real) madness, so also do they seem overwrought by Ophelia’s.  Once again, this seems a departure from the original play. The film leans towards the melodramatic, a tendency perhaps meant to appeal to contemporary audiences.  This is the case with Hamlet and his mother Gertrude, who exchange several passionate kisses in a way (thrusting motions on Hamlet’s part) that suggests incestuous attraction.  The film is entertaining and watchable but it has the sense of a thing abbreviated, with one event following another, often at a rapid clip, occasionally as a matter of shorthand acknowledgement of events in the play. The final swordplay between Hamlet and Laertes is not convincing, and the deaths come awkwardly one after the other.

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