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William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" has been filmed and performed on stage numerous times. What is interesting is the distinct differences a director or screenwriter can create in the same play through film. Three versions of Hamlet, the classic, long-time favorite starring and directed by Laurence Olivier, the 1996 version starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh and the most recent version, released in 2000 starring and directed by Campbell Scott. All three versions tell the same story, but with different nuances which change the feel of the movie. These most obvious differences can be seen in each movies setting and time period, script and the manner in which the individual characters are portrayed.
The first difference between the three movies is what strikes the viewer immediately, the setting and time period. The original play was set in Denmark in the 1500s. Olivier's version seems to be set in about the same era. The fact that the castle is lit by candles, the style of the characters wardrobes and the lack of guns as weapons all fall in accurately with the time period originally established by Shakespeare. This Hamlets castle is built of cold stone and seems almost dungeon like, which suits the Hamlet quotation, "Denmark's a prison." Rather well. Being filmed in black and white also lends to the films feeling of another antiquity and moodiness. This dark setting envelops the viewer and works very well with the dark turbulence of Olivier's "Hamlet".
Branagh's version brings Hamlet into a bit of a more modern time period. First, Hamlet's castle seems to be a bit more modern and designed with the opulence of royalty. The Branagh version uses gas lamps for lighting and there is a pool table in Claudius's room. Also, when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive, they are getting off of a train. There are guns and cannons in this version of Hamlet and when Ophelia goes mad, she is placed in a straight jacket, this puts the date further in time. The wardrobe is also inconsistent with Shakespeare's original play. The men are not dressed in tights and there is a lavishness and brilliance about the costuming and palace. Branagh's version seems to be placed somewhere in the late 19th century.
The 2000 version, directing and starring Campbell Scott takes the largest departure from Shakespeare's time period and setting. The clothing, though not the same as today is far more modern than either Olivier's or Branagh's. The men wear suits and ties, while the women seem to be robed in type of gown wore by women in the very late 1800s or very early 1900s. Even the background music is a more modern type of jazz. Hamlet is no longer living in a castle, rather his home is now a large, mansion set on sprawling green lawns that lead out to a beach. Scott's Hamlet no longer takes place in Denmark or anywhere in Europe. This Hamlet is located in Long Island, New York. An interesting concept, however may lead the audience to be a bit confused when characters speak of Norway.
An interesting aspect of "Hamlet" is the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia. In reading the play, on only knows that there is some romantic situation going on. However, it reads as vague and lacking in passion which makes it difficult to understand how the end of this relationship would result in Ophelia's descent into madness. The film versions help the viewer gain more of a feeling on the intensity and tangibility of Hamlet and Ophelia. Branagh's version explores this possibility best, using a flashback device of intimate love scenes between Hamlet and Ophelia. This gives the characters much more depth and dimension. The audience is can now believe that Hamlet obviously did at one point have strong feeling for Ophelia. As for Ophelia, to have had a covert affair with Hamlet adds a sense of realness to her upcoming insanity. It also lends a bit of irony when Ophelia receives warnings and advice from her father, Polonius, and her brother, Laertes, against relations with Hamlet. When Polonius and Laertes dissuade Ophelia from entertaining any thoughts of romance in Branagh's version, Ophelia plays innocent.
The relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia is portrayed passionately in Campbell Scott's 2001 "Hamlet". This Ophelia is a very strong, passionate, sarcastic woman. She is played by an African-American actress, Lisa Gay Hamilton, which adds a whole new level as to why her father and brother may warn against giving her heart to Hamlet. It is another layer and adds what can be construed as a
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Kenneth Branagh, Laurence Olivier, Campbell Scott, Scott,
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