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Film: Shakespeare uncut

"Film: Shakespeare uncut" Continued...

Issue: "Evolution Counter-Revolution," March 1, 1997

Not only do Mr. Branagh and his immediate cast of Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Richard Briers, Kate Winslet, and Nicholas Farrell deliver an incisive look at corruption in the seats of power, but even smaller parts are given interpretations that illuminate the consequences. (Of special delight is Billy Crystal as the First Gravedigger. Cameos by other surprising non-Shakespearean stars in bit parts work amazingly well: Robin Williams plays the fawning courtier Osric; Jack Lemmon shows up as Marcellus; Gerard Depardieu plays Renaldo; and Charlton Heston--who actually does have Shakespearean credentials--appears as the Player King. One of Shakespeare's strengths as a playwright is that even his minor characters are fascinating, a quality faithfully represented by such creative casting.

The only disappointing turn in this version of Hamlet is the suggestion, tied to Ophelia's bawdy rantings during her insanity, that the Danish prince and his beloved had engaged in physical intimacy. While modern audiences may take such a relationship for granted, the second relationship--portrayed briefly in flashback--goes against the grain of Hamlet's historical setting and his otherwise orthodox ethics.

In sum, running the gamut from Baz to Branagh, one might well conclude that Shakespeare is tamper proof. After all, as Hamlet says at the very end of Act II, &quotthe play's the thing/ Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king&quot--and maybe even of our generation.

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