Worth Including in your Library
Lisa Shea | 12/08/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This 1990 version of Hamlet, starring Kevin Kline in the title role, was filmed from an actual Broadway production. On one hand it means this is perhaps as close as you could get to the "authentic Shakespeare feel" in a movie. They are not taking advantage of gorgeous landscapes or thousands of extras. They are acting on a stage, live in front of an audience, bounded by its stage walls just as in Shakespeare's time. On the other hand, Kevin chose to move the setting forward into a much more modern time period. The actors are wearing suits and military uniforms, and seem to be in the 1940s.
I'm generally not a fan of "adjusting Hamlet's time". I understand the desire to shake things up a bit, to not simply re-tell a tale that's been told thousands of times before. Still, it is jarring to see Hamlet's uncle looking almost like Captain Kirk in his ribbons. I admit I do like Ophelia's gentle dress, so there is some good in what they've done. The set tends towards the stark, concrete pillar look. I would have liked it to look more regal, more like a castle that had been lived in and loved for centuries.
The thing that stands out most about this performance is the over-the-top emotions. Hamlet is wriggling around on the stage, tears streaming down his face. He's picking up Ophelia and flinging her around in circles. He's falling backwards off of platforms, being caught by others. Oddly, then there are other lines which I would have thought warranted such emotion - and they are given with barely a flicker of interest. It's a bit jarring.
My boyfriend had problems because of Kline's very distinctive voice. We've seen him in so many other movies that my boyfriend almost expected Kline to break out of character sometimes and do a new accent. I didn't have this problem myself, but I could see how it might happen. Kline doesn't "submerge" himself well into this character. He seems like an antic Kline playing a part.
That being said, I did feel new poignancy at several lines, where they really nailed a certain emotion. Still, somehow they trimmed out some of my favorite lines too. I do like that they kept in the Fortinbras storyline, even having him arrive at the end to sort of "end the loop" since Hamlet was born when Fortinbras' father was slain.
Where in other versions there would be one or another of the "supporting cast" that stood out to me, in this one none of them did, which I felt was a shame. Horatio, one of my favorite characters, was very mild here, almost stilted to me. Ophelia seemed a bit too willful given her dutiful daughter dialogue. Both the mother and uncle were lacking in presence, especially the uncle who supposedly had talents of charisma. Even Laertes seemed a bit wooden to me.
I'm not saying they were "stagey wooden" - I have certainly seem versions where it seemed like everyone was nervously reciting the words by rote as they marched from spot A to spot B. There were some good emotions shown on some lines. Still, in general the characters didn't seem "real" - they seemed parts being played.
I definitely own this and would recommend other Hamlet fans have it in their library. However, it's not one I go back to for the pure pleasure of watching and enjoying it, of listening to the words roll.
Simply the Best
L. Hill | Washington, USA | 09/14/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this production when our local PBS station aired it over 17 years ago and I never forgot it. I was thrilled to find it on DVD. Costuming is understated, contemporary and the focus of Kevin Kline's minimal set designs is the lighting (mood) rather than overproduced dressings which are inconsequential here when the stength in this "HAMLET" are the actors; their hands, eyes, posture, movement, voice, inflections absorb and hold you with completeness. There is no distraction because it is obvious Kevin Kline decided that less was more in his interpretation and he knew exactly what he was talking about. It is Simple and SIMPLY the best!"