Hamlet (2001)

"Essential"

Hamlet (2001) Review


When most people think of Shakespeare they cringe, thinking of melodrama, costumes, and strange vocabulary. But what happens if you pare down the stereotypical theatrical imagery of Shakespeare and simply concentrate on the characters in the story?

This new version of Hamlet, directed by Campbell Scott (The Spanish Prisoner) and Eric Simonson does just that, and beautifully so. The setting is Americanized (the post-Civil War-era South), the production design simple, and nobody is forcing an accent unknown to them. It makes you want to scrounge for the books you packed away in high school because you didn't feel like figuring them out at the time.

Everyone knows the story of Hamlet by now, so I'll pass on the plot description and stick to appreciating this provocative adaptation.

The production is woven by an impeccable ensemble cast. For instance, Polonius (Roscoe Lee Browne) and his kin (Lisa Gay Hamilton as Ophelia and Roger Guenveur Smith as Laertes) are captured as a family unit -- not just as the councilor of Claudius (Jamey Sheridan) or the unfortunate love interest of Hamlet (Campbell Scott). They are also African-American, which adds yet another layer as to why Ophelia and Hamlet can't end up together, and why Polonius will always be an advisor but never king.

This is just a fraction of how the secondary characters aid in articulating the prison-like world that Hamlet is stuck in. Even the Players, who normally have a quick few shots in a film to show that the play prompted by Hamlet aggravates Claudius (Jamey Sheridan), have strong scenes. When they come up the driveway, Hamlet is pleased to finally have someone to talk to, and Hamlet actually gets a few moments of happiness.

Unlike most adaptations of Hamlet that center on the title character -- almost becoming a vanity piece -- Scott and Simonson wisely choose to give these secondary characters ample screen time. Hamlet is also played with a refreshingly different, layered interpretation. He isn't simply melancholy, or even self-pitying. Scott evokes in Hamlet an intelligence and quiet charisma that keep you focused on his progress throughout the almost-three-hour movie.

Even better, everything is wonderfully underplayed, allowing the viewer to appreciate the feelings conveyed. The words themselves haven't changed but are spoken with human simplicity and not the common theatrical bravura. Monologues blend well into the rest of the dialogue and aren't just set up to remind you that you are watching Shakespeare. This is a coming-of-age story and is played as such instead of shouting, "See, this is a classic!"

A unique fantasy element has also been added so that there is nothing shocking about the method to Hamlet's madness. It is easier to understand the complexity of his emotional upheaval. These moments are set apart simply but effectively through the use of a beating drum. His experience with the Ghost continues to impose on his mind, forcing him into submission. At one point he cuts his own arms with glass, more to come back to reality than as a suicide attempt. Though Shakespeare purists may argue that this wasn't in the original play, it's a powerful scene impossible not to connect with.

This is one of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever filmed. It may be three hours long, but you get so caught up in the motives of individual characters and how they affect one another that you barely notice the time. Highly recommended.

Delivering Yorick.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Contactmusic


Links


Advertisement

New Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

After the thunderous reception for J.J. Abrams' Episode VII: The Force Awakens two years ago,...

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Like the 2015 original, this comedy plays merrily with cliches to tell a silly story...

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

There's a somewhat contrived jauntiness to this blending of fact and fiction that may leave...

Ferdinand Movie Review

Ferdinand Movie Review

This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children's book, which was published in...

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Director Dave McCary makes a superb feature debut with this offbeat black comedy, which explores...

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs,...

Shot Caller Movie Review

Shot Caller Movie Review

There isn't much subtlety to this prison thriller, but it's edgy enough to hold the...

Advertisement
The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

A hilariously outrageous story based on real events, this film recounts the making of the...

Stronger Movie Review

Stronger Movie Review

Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one...

Only the Brave Movie Review

Only the Brave Movie Review

Based on a genuinely moving true story, this film undercuts the realism by pushing its...

Wonder Movie Review

Wonder Movie Review

This film may be based on RJ Palacio's fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story...

Happy End  Movie Review

Happy End Movie Review

Austrian auteur Michael Haneke isn't known for his light touch, but rather for hard-hitting, award-winning...

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Seemingly from out of nowhere, this film generates perhaps the biggest smile of any movie...

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.