Hamlet Goes To The Movies

By:  Sydney Vollmer

Nine. NINE Hamlet adaptations worldwide listed on iMDb (Internet Movie Database)! The adaptations range from a traditional version filmed in England to a modern-day (well, 2000s), New York City adaptation. I’ve listed the films below in chronological order. Before I get started, let me make it abundantly clear that I have never ever seen any of these movies. The closest I’ve come is The Lion King, and even that was years ago. Even so, I’m going to make comments on these given the little information I have. What I find most interesting is the progression of ratings: Unrated, G, PG, PG-13, R. What?? Did they not show fighting and death in the G-rated version? If not, they royally screwed with the storyline.

1948: UK
2h 35m

The first adaptation noted was filmed in the UK in 1948. Hamlet was played by actor Laurence Olivier. The only other particularly notable talent in the movie was Jean Simmons who played Ophelia. Other than that, there’s not much to say about this one.

1964: Russia
2h 20m

Hamlet was played by Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy. I’m glad I have to write this rather than read it aloud, because I have no idea where to begin in pronouncing that name.

1969: UK
1h 57m

In 1969, the UK decided to try the whole adaptation thing again. People such as Nicol Williamson (Hamlet), Judy Parfitt (Queen Gertrude), Anthony Hopkins (Claudius), and singer Marianne Faithfull (Ophelia) appeared. You can even find Anjelica Huston among the crowd as a Court Lady. It’s the G rating that really gets me. In 2016, it’s hard to imagine a film where everyone dies as being rated for General Audiences. What did they do? Cut it off and just write on the screen, “Oh, and everyone died after that”?

1990: USA
2h 15m

It’s 1990…The U.S. decides to take a crack at this whole Hamlet thing. Might as well, right? Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s go ahead and throw big names in there: Mel Gibson (Hamlet), Glenn Close (Gertrude), Alan Bates (Claudius), and Helena Bonham Carter (Ophelia).–This was before what most of Bonham Carter’s career was tied to Tim Burton. A Tim Burton Hamlet… Now that would be interesting. I’m seeing it as Claymation, much like Corpse Bride. Who knows? Maybe that will come before 2020.—Anyway, the big name cast did pretty well considering the film grossed $20,710,451.

1996: UK
4h 2m

Six years later, the British try again. This time, Kenneth Branagh takes a swing at the material. This would be his fourth Shakespearian film, though most millennials know him from playing Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter series. Before he went to Hogwarts’ castle, he played the Prince of Denmark, as well as directed himself in that role. Alongside him is a whole slew of celebrities, because that’s the only real way to sell tickets, right? That’s what we learned from America’s spin on the classic. Starring with Branagh is: Julie Christie (Gertrude) and Kate Winslet (Ophelia). If you look in the smaller roles, that’s where the bulk of the star-packed cast is found: Billy Crystal (First Gravedigger), Judi Dench (Hecuba), Charlton Heston (Player King), and Robin Williams (Osric). They probably had no choice but to fill the movie with a lot of recognizable faces, otherwise the audience would fall asleep during this FOUR HOUR PRODUCTION! Branagh, I don’t care how good you are, or how many people you convince to play on your film set; nothing is going to make me sit still for that full time just watching a screen. Apparently, audiences felt similarly. Though the movie had an estimated budget of $18,000,000 to make, opening weekend only raked in a meager $148,321. A year later, it had only earned $4,414,535 in the U.S.

2000: USA
1h 52m

This is my favorite, because it’s such a 2000s thing to do. What the U.S. did this time was put a modern twist on the story. Following the success of 10 Things I Hate About You which had been released the previous year as a take on Taming of the Shrew, everyone probably thought this was a great idea. Ethan Hawke played Hamlet. Naturally, the 10 Things star, Julia Stiles, played Ophelia. Other stars graced the screen as well, including: Bill Murray (Polonius), Steve Zahn (Rosencrantz), Jeffrey Wright (Gravedigger)—you might know him as Beetee from The Hunger Games trilogy–, Tim Blake Nelson (Flight Captain), and Liev Schreiber (Laertes)—more famously known as Sabretooth from X-Men.

In this modern take:

New York, 2000. A specter in the guise of the newly-dead CEO of Denmark Corporation appears to Hamlet, tells of murder most foul, demands revenge, and identifies the killer as Claudius, the new head of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle and now step-father. Hamlet must determine if the ghost is truly his father, and if Claudius did the deed. To buy time, Hamlet feigns madness; to catch his uncle’s conscience, he invites him to watch a film he’s made that shows a tale of murder. Finally convinced of Claudius’s guilt, Hamlet must avenge his father. Claudius now knows Hamlet is a threat and even uses Ophelia, Hamlet’s love, in his own plots against the young man. (Copied from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0171359/?ref_=nv_sr_3)

I guess it sounds a little dark, but certainly not darker than any other version of this tragedy. This one is rated R! It says for violence. Is it just because there might be a gun instead of a sword? I don’t understand.

2009: TV movie, UK

2009 brought a three- hour television special of a staged production featuring David Tennant as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier-X-Men, Captain Picard-Star Trek) as Claudius and the Ghost. It was filmed in the UK and released there, the U.S., and Japan. Now I’m going to have to go looking for connections between the X-Men story and Hamlet.

 2015: UK
3h 4m

Last year, the UK released an unrated Hamlet. What is noteworthy here is that Hamlet was portrayed by a female actress by the name of Maxine Peake. But of course, back in the early 20th century, Sarah Bernhardt and other actresses portrayed Hamlet on the stage. Everything else seems to be business as usual: dead dad, ghost, upset, everybody dies—all that good stuff.

2016 (UK)

Sometime this year, we can expect to see yet another remake of Hamlet. Tom Clear will portray the Prince of Denmark. I’m curious to see the quality here, because the budget is a mere £200. Even if it’s a stage production being filmed, what are they using, an iPhone? Something to look forward to, I guess…

So, we’re all over this Shakespeare thing this year to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his death, you know, 1616-2016. To discover more about the Archives & Rare Books Library’s Shakespeare holdings and other things we have and do, visit us on the 8th floor of Blegen Library, email us at archives@ucmail.uc.edu, phone us at 513.556.1959, or take a look at our website, http://www.libraries.uc.edu/arb.html, especially the special pages on Shakespeare: http://libapps.libraries.uc.edu/exhibits/shakespeare400/.