Hamlet

If Branagh's ambitious film needs any kind of compliment, it is that at around four hours it carries itself perfectly well. The star/director has assembled one of the finest casts ever seen on the big screen: so the Player King is played by Heston, who at least gets to speak, unlike Gielgud, Dench, John Mills and Ken Dodd in a succession of parts which underline the text through imagined interludes. Sometimes the casting is regrettable (Jack Lemmon looking ill-at-ease as a superannuated sentry); at others tongue-in-cheek (Attenborough as the English ambassador) or wasteful (Depardieu as a one-scene monosyllabic spy).

The role-playing scores most in the world of work and politics, warfare and diplomacy, as imagined by Briers' superb Polonius and Jacobi's Claudius. Branagh's prince is admirable: popular, versatile, frank, kind, ruthless, athletic, straight-backed, with a little-boy-lost voice to go with the martial one. Tim Harvey's production design makes Elsinore a highlight, creating a snow-swept Ruritania of chessboard floors, mirrored corridors, freezing courtyards. Drawbacks: an intrusive score; spurious sex scenes between Kate Winslet's Ophelia and Branagh's pre-antic Hamlet; and a full-scale Norwegian invasion during the final duel. But all in all, as near to Branagh's masterwork as dammit, and far better fun than a jig, or even a tale of bawdry.

Release details

Duration: 242 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenwriter: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Kenneth Branagh
Julie Christie
Billy Crystal
GĂ©rard Depardieu
Charlton Heston
Richard Briers
Derek Jacobi
Jack Lemmon
Robin Williams
Rufus Sewell
Richard Attenborough
Brian Blessed
Michael Bryant
Judi Dench
Reece Dinsdale
Ken Dodd
John Gielgud
Rosemary Harris
Michael Maloney
John Mills
Timothy Spall
Kate Winslet
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