Hamlet (1990)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop


The story of Hamlet has become synonymous with Shakespeare, as perhaps one of his greatest triumphs. Franco Zeffirelli is responsible for bringing many of Shakespeare's plays to life, from the wit of Twelfth Night to the passion of Romeo & Juliet, and even an old version of Much Ado About Nothing, poorly remade recently by Kenneth Branagh. The premise is almost simplistic and yet intriguing... Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark whose father has recently died. His mother is already remarried to his uncle, something that causes strife between mother and son... particularly when Hamlet learns that his uncle is responsible for his father's death.


The ghost of the king returns to tell Hamlet (Mel Gibson) that he must be avenged or his soul will not be at peace... but there is one condition: Gertrude (Glenn Close) is not to be in any way harmed, as she is innocent. Innocent in her husband's death, Hamlet admits... but is she truly innocent in her swift marriage to the murderer? Confused, enraged, and yet seeking the proper way to proceed, Hamlet retreats into himself. He calls off his marriage to the beautiful young Ophelia (Helena Bonham-Carter) and begins to behave strangely. The court is convinced that he has gone mad, but Gertrude is reluctant to confine her son to an asylum. Desiring to test Claudius and his mother, Hamlet arranges the visiting troop to perform a play that has much the same premise as his father's killing. The performance has the effect the desired, and as his uncle flees to the chapel to pray for forgiveness, Hamlet chooses not to kill him. In prayer, he might be sent to heaven... whereas if he catches him in some ungodly act, he will assuredly be sent to hell. Therefore, he chooses his mother instead and goes to her chamber to confront her with the truth. He terrifies her nearly out of her wits and winds up accidentally murdering Ophelia's father, the King's consort.


He is sent away immediately, but Ophelia's brother is seeking revenge. What follows is a tragic tale of romance, revenge, justice, and dishonor as Hamlet struggles to right his wrongs and eventually pays the ultimate price. While this adaptation has been moderated and shortened to fit a pleasing screen time, the dialogue and speeches remain much the same and are presented in a manner which would make Shakespeare proud. The cast is magnificent, particularly Mel Gibson as Hamlet and Glenn Close as Gertrude. The costumes and decor received Academy Award Nominations.


If you're not a fan of Shakespeare, even listening to Hamlet you will realize how familiar many of his speeches and sayings are. They have become so embedded into our very language that it is like listening to a familiar ballad to hear them sing through the lips of such esteemed and great actors. I never have been an adamant fan of the Bard, but this film was engaging as well as tragic and renewed my interest in Shakespeare in general. The acting was superb, particularly on part of a young Mel Gibson in the lead. For true Bard fans, the film may seem to leave out a great deal, but for teens seeking an interest, the draw of this swiftly-moving plot and all-star cast is a sure fire winner.



Sexual Content:

Hamlet speaks suggestively to Ophelia during the play; she later, in a moment of madness, sings a song to the guards about how men never marry girls who have gone to bed with them. Gertrude stops Hamlet from killing her by kissing him passionately. It hints at incest, and in one case by a critic, implied rape.



There are a few mutterings of "God" used incorrectly, as well as one expression of "God's blood!" in surprise.



A half dozen people are killed on-screen, either by poisoning or the sword. Word comes that a young woman has drowned. Hamlet attacks his mother violently in her bedchamber and is only stopped from strangling her by his father's ghost.