'Hamlet', by William Shakespeare - DVD Play Reviews
Shakespeare's Hamlet - Play Reviews - Mostly DVD
Of all the plays by William Shakespeare, Hamlet remains one of the most intriguing and popular. When he wrote 'Hamlet', Shakespeare was creating a long-lasting phenomenon. I wonder if he could ever have imagined that it would still be playing to packed audiences today? Actors are eager to play the lead and it is enacted in theatres all over the world, regularly.
For those who prefer to watch in the comfort of their own home, it is, thankfully, also available on DVD. And there are a number of versions!
Towards the end of this hub, I have linked to a few online 'Hamlet' videos. Some are tasters from available DVDs and some are snippets from older versions of the play that are not on DVD.
And then there's Arnold Schwarzenegger!
Of course, Hamlet has been staged many times since it was written around the year 1600, and most of those versions have not come down to us ~ on DVD or otherwise ~ though there are a few paintings and photographs, to give us an idea of what we have missed.
Asta Nielsen and Sarah Bernhardt were two women who played Hamlet.
Edwin Booth - Hamlet - 1870
Sarah Bernhardt - Hamlet - 1900
My favourite 'Hamlet' was the 'Royal Shakespeare Company' production with David Tennant, at the Courtyard Shakespeare Theatre. However, although this is a play review, it is not a theatre review. I intend to look particularly at the available Shakespeare DVDs (Hamlet DVDs that is!). Luckily my favourite version is now available in DVD format.
Do you simply want to watch and enjoy the play? Or are you an English literature student, who needs to really study it in depth?
Whether you just want to watch the play, or you want to write a Hamlet essay, or Hamlet summary, or a Hamlet synopsis, or you need to do a Hamlet character study, or remember some Hamlet quotes, or learn about Hamlet themes, or understand a Hamlet soliloquy, you first need to watch, digest and really know this 'Hamlet' play!
Get yourself some Hamlet theatre tickets, to see a live theater production, by all means ~ I would certainly recommend that ~ but be sure to have your own copy, at hand, to view at your leisure.
I have tried to include as many versions of 'Hamlet' as I can find, although I admit to not having seen them all. I shall try to make it clear which versions I am familiar with.
The versions I describe are mostly available on DVD. Some are also available on VHS and some on Blu-Ray. The Gielgud audio version is on CD. It may be that VHS editions for some will only be found in a 'used' condition.
Laurence Olivier Hamlet 1948 DVD
Laurence Olivier ~ 1948 ~ 155 minutes
Directed by, and starring, Sir Laurence Olivier, this is a very famous version of Hamlet. It is relatively short and anything considered extraneous was edited out ~ there is no Fortinbras and no Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Olivier had played Hamlet on stage at Helsingor (Elsinore) in 1937.
Worth seeing, but if you are studying the play, this one is useful for comparing how it can be staged, rather than for getting to know and understand the full text. This interpretation appears to have been influenced by the theories of Freud. Jean Simmons plays Ophelia.
Winner of four Oscars ~ 'Best Picture', 'Best Actor', 'Best Supporting Actress', 'Best Costume Design'. Filmed in black and white. When I checked, 44 of its 64 Amazon reviewers gave it 5 stars.
I have a copy of this.
Richard Burton Hamlet 1964 DVD
Richard Burton 1964 ~ 191 minutes
This is a version that I have yet to see ~ but which, I believe, should be great. Richard Burton's voice, alone, would be enough to make any production of Hamlet 'a must'. Directed by John Gielgud.
This was a Boadway production, filmed before a live audience, in black and white, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on Broadway, while the actors were in their 'rehearsal clothes'. It has received some very good 'Amazon' reviews.
In 1967, William Redfield, who played Guildenstern, published a memoir of this event, entitled: "Notes of an Actor".
Innokenti Smoktunovsky Hamlet 1964 DVD
Grigori Kozintsev Hamlet 1964 ~ 140 minutes
Starring Innokenti Smoktunovsky
When I checked with Amazon.com, there were 12 customer reviews. Of these, 9 gave it five stars and the rest gave it four. Filmed in black and white, it is described as being visually very impressive. Other descriptions include: 'awesome', 'splendid', 'gripping', 'unforgettable', 'intelligent'. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen this version.
Russian, with English subtitles.
Nicol Williamson Hamlet 1969 DVD
Nicol Williamson 1969 ~ 113 minutes
Also starring Anthony Hopkins, Anjelica Huston, Marianne Faithfull
Apparently, this is a film of the stage production, produced in 'London's Roundhouse'. The Amazon.com reviews for this DVD are mixed. Does it 'soar above and beyond' the other Hamlets, or is it the 'dullest and worst version ever'? I don't know ~ I am afraid that I haven't seen it.
Derek Jacobi Hamlet 1980 DVD
Derek Jacobi 1980 ~ 214 minutes
Very well acted. A few years old now. It is a film of a stage production, from the BBC, so the viewer can imagine that s/he is actually seeing a play enacted. Derek Jacobi is Hamlet. He was born in 1938, according to imdb.com, which made him 42 years old when he made this. To me, he seemed a little too old to be playing 'young Hamlet', but there is some question as to Hamlet's age. I tend to see him as a much younger 'boy-man'.
Jacobi is a great actor, though, as is Patrick Stewart, who portrays Claudius ~ this was before he became Star Trek's 'Jean Luc Picard'.
I have a copy of this.
Kevin Kline Hamlet 1990 DVD
Kevin Kline 1990 ~ 165 minutes
Directed by and starring Kevin Kline, with co-director Kirk Browning, this 'Hamlet' was first produced for the New York Shakespeare Festival, by Joseph Papp.
I wasn't sure that I would like this version, perhaps because Shakespeare is so intrinsically 'English' that I expect it always to be performed by English actors. However, I watched the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy on 'YouTube' and I was hooked. I felt that had I finally understood this speech ~ for the first time ever.
It gets a mixed reaction on imdb.com and on Amazon.com
I have a copy of this.
Mel Gibson Hamlet 1991 DVD
Mel Gibson 1991 ~ 130 minutes
Franco Zeffirelli's 'Hamlet' is set in medieval times, in the Danish medieval castle of Elsinore, and this is a 'medieval' rendition, complete with medieval castle. Mel Gibson makes a handsome, but troubled, Hamlet and Helena Bonham Carter is a pretty, but troubled, Ophelia.
Though its setting appears tio be the most 'true' to the original, I found it hard to believe in Gibson as 'Hamlet'. However, this seems to be a very popular version with drama teachers and their students. (Zeffirelli's 'Romeo and Juiliet' was brilliant in my opinion.) However, I found the cutting and editing rather confusing, when I was studying the play.
When last I checked, 109 of the 202 Amazon reviewers had given it 5 stars, ten had only given one star.
I have a copy of this.
The Animated Tales Hamlet 1992 DVD
The Animated Tales: Hamlet 1992 ~ 30 minutes
This is a brief animated version of 'Hamlet', which makes a good introduction to the story, especially for children.
Usually available as part of gift sets, released in 1994 and 2004. Artistically pleasing.
I enjoyed it, but it is a very simplistic version
I have a copy of this.
Kenneth Branagh Hamlet 1996 DVD
Kenneth Branagh 1996 ~ 242 minutes
Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet is the epic production. Everything is there and everything is in the right order ~ and it lasts for four hours!
It's good ~ very good ~ but difficult to sit through in one go. Derek Jacobi also appears in thi version ~ as Claudius ~ and he is very good in the part. Branagh himself plays Hamlet ~ again, very good. Richard Briers makes a very good Polonius. John Gielgud plays Priam.
There is (only) one part in this film which, I think, was probably mis-cast ~ Jack Lemmon as Marcellus. He acted the part well enough, but, to me, he just didn't ring true as a Shakespearean palace guard. I kept seeing Lemmon rather than Marcellus. Most of the Amazon reviewers gave it 5 stars ~ 256 of the 351 reviewers, when I last looked. 21 of them had given it only one star.
'To Be on Camera: A History with Hamlet' ~ the making of this version of Hamlet, is included with the VHS and the two-disc special edition DVD of the 1996 Hamlet, which was released in 2007.
I have a copy of this.
Discovering Hamlet Kenneth Branagh VHS
Discovering Hamlet [VHS] ~ 53 minutes
An early record of Kenneth Branagh, learning to be Hamlet under the direction of Derek Jacobi, at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, is available on VHS.
Called 'Discovering Hamlet', this documentary, shows the evolution of a stage production.
It, too, has some very good reviews, but I have not seen it.
Campbell Scott Hamlet 2000 DVD
Campbell Scott 2000 ~ 178 minutes
Campbell Scott both plays and directs 'Hamlet', in this version. Most of the 'Amazon' reviews that I read were very complimentary.
The DVD I saw advertised also included 'The Making of Hamlet'.
I have yet to see this version.
Ethan Hawke Hamlet 2000 DVD
Ethan Hawke 2000 ~ 112 minutes
This is set in modern New York and was directed by Michael Almereyda. Amazon reviews were rather mixed. Even those who found it 'excellent' or 'terrific' didn't give it 5 stars!
This is another one that I have not seen.
William Houston Hamlet 2003
William Houston 2003
Directed by Mike Mundell, Gareth Thomas plays Claudius and Jason Harris plays Horatio.
I noticed a VHS version of this for sale on Amazon in 'used' condition, and I have seen the DVD reviewed on IMDB.com.
There are three reviews here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0439597/usercomments
I wouldn't say that the comments were brilliant, but they are not bad.
I have not viewed this version.
Alexander Fodor's Hamlet 2007 DVD
Alexander Fodor's Hamlet 2007 ~ 131 minutes
The one review I
found on Amazon.com gave this 5 stars and explained that this is a thoroughly
modernised version of 'Hamlet', '...
with Ophelia succumbing to drugs, Polonius being recast as Polonia, Ophelia's
sister ...'. I have not seen it.
David Tennant Hamlet 2009 DVD
David Tennant 2009 ~ 180 minutes
I haven't seen this DVD, but I feel that I must recommend it. I saw this version of Hamlet, live, in Stratford Upon Avon and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have a tendency to become sleepy in theatres, but not during this production! Tennant has great stage presence, and Patrick Stewart, once again, makes a great Claudius ~ as well as playing the ghost.
Directed by Gregory Doran.
A documentary on the making of this 'Hamlet' is included.
Available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
I have not seen this DVD, but I did see the documentary of the making of it, and I did see the original stage version.
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Jude Law also played Hamlet on stage in 2009, but I do not know if a film of this is planned.
Shakespeare Critical Guide Hamlet DVD
Shakespeare Critical Guide 'Romeo + Juliet' and 'Hamlet' DVD 60 min.
This is a very good educational guide to Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' (also to 'Romeo and Juliet') from Cromwell Productions.
It has invaluable input, for students of Shakespeare, from Professor Stanley Wells, of the Shakespeare Institute, and from Dr Robert Smallwood, of the Shakespeare Centre, Stratford-Upon-Avon.
It is also enjoyable and entertaining to watch. I have a copy.
DVD/ Blu-Ray/ HD-DVD ~ but it seems only to be available in PAL format ~ Region 0 (UK – Europe -World-Wide - All regions) 'It will not play in a 'NTSC' DVD player (USA & Canada)
John Gielgud Hamlet 1948 CD Audio only
John Gielgud 1948
Audio CD, starring John Gielgud, with Celia Johnson. BBC Radio Third Programme Live Broadcast ~ abridged.
I really enjoyed this version, in spite of it being audio-only. I would particularly recommend it to anyone studying the play. I own a copy.
In 1944, Gielgud played Hamlet, on stage, at the Theatre Royal in London. The original review, dated 16 October 1944, was re-published in the Guardian on 16 October 2009. It claims that 'No other actor ... can make so just an enchantment of the lines'. In 1948, when he made this recording, Gielgud was in his mid 40s, but when he first played Hamlet, in the 'Old Vic' season 1929-1930, he was the youngest to do so.
Hamlet The Opera DVD
Opera 176 min 2004
French with English subtitles
'Hamlet' The Opera, was written by Ambroise Thomas.
Here, conducted by Bertrand De Billy, it is staged 'at the 'Gran Teatro Del Liceu', Barcelona, Spain.
I have not seen this opera or the DVD.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
This is not, exactly, another version of 'Hamlet', but, rather, a farce-like, spin-off from it, written by Tom Stoppard.
It takes two of the minor, but troublesome, characters and names a whole new play after them ~ a play which is comically absurd. This play retains most of the characters from 'Hamlet'
The play was first seen in Scotland in 1966. The film was released in 1990/1991.
I have yet to see it.
David Garrick - Hamlet - 18th century
Thomas W Keene - Hamlet - 1884
Some Shakespearian Actors on IMDB.com
Derek Jacobi on imdb.com
Patrick Stewart on imdb.com
Laurence Olivier on imdb.com
Richard Burton on imdb.com
Kevin Kline on imdb.com
Richard Briers on imdb.com
David Tennant on imdb.com
John Gielgud on imdb.com
Celia Johnson on imdb.com
Anthony Hopkins on imdb.com
Anjelica Huston on imdb.com
Oxford Hamlet - Shakespeare
Hamlet in Purgatory - Stephen Greenblatt
Hamlet Texts, Notes, Criticism and Literary Guides
When I was studying Hamlet, I used the Oxford edition of the play. It is very good, explaining clearly the unusual words and unfamiliar ideas. It also gives lots of background and useful information.
I also bought a copy of the York Notes. I always find them helpful and clear. The other book of Hamlet notes that I bought was in the 'Teach yourself Literature Guides' series.
'Hamlet in Purgatory' was also very useful, when trying to understand the background.
As the Amazon comment states: 'Central to his [Greenblatt] approach is the notion that not only does history affect literature, but literature itself informs history'.
Hamlet - The Play and its Characters
'Hamlet' was written around 1600, and first performed shortly afterwards. Although it is, indeed, a tragedy, with many deaths occurring within the play, there is also a lot of humour running through it ~ and it can be 'played for laughs'.
The play opens with young Hamlet in mourning, because his father has recently died. On top of this, his mother, instead of supporting him through his grief, has remarried ~ a little too soon to be decorous, and this fills Hamlet with yet more distress. The fact that her new husband is his uncle, whom he doesn't even seem to like, makes matters even worse, since he now considers his mother guilty of incest ~ and possibly adultery. Can anything else go wronmg for poor Hamlet? Of yes indeed ~ his father's ghost turns up to tell him that he did not die a natural death, he was the victim of 'murder most foul'!
The play is set in medieval Denmark ~ at the royal court of Elsinor (Helsingor). One reason why Shakespeare may have done this was to allow him the freedom to 'say things' that could not easily, or perhaps safely, be said, openly, about the English court. However, there is a story of a Scandinavian 'Amleth', upon which this play seems to be loosely based. Whether or not this was an original tale is not known, but it was recorded by Saxo Grammaticus in the early 13th century.
There are certain parallels beyween the English court and that at Elsinor. For example, Queen Gertrude marries her dead husband's brother and Queen Katherine (of Aragon) married her dead husband's brother. James I's father was believed to have been murdered by the man who would become his step-father and Hamlet's father appears to have been murdered by the man who has become his step-father.
Shakespeare was writing during the Tudor and Stuart periods of English history. Elizabeth I was the last Tudor monarch. When she died, in 1603, she was succeeded by a cousin, James I (VIth of Scotland) ~ the first Stuart monarch (and son of Mary Queen of Scots). This choice of successor and the relatively smooth transition were being planned by 1601. Shakespeare's work was very popular with both sovereigns.
Hamlet, Horatio and the Gravediggers
The play does contain a little joke 'against' the English in Act 5 Scene
1. It amused the audience at The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford Upon
Avon, when David Tennant was playing Hamlet, every bit as much as it
must have in Shakespeare's day:
How long is that since?
Cannot you tell that? every fool can tell that: it was the very day that young Hamlet was born; he that is mad, and sent into England.
Ay, marry, why was he sent into England?
Why, because he was mad: he shall recover his wits there; or, if he do not, it's no great matter there.
'Twill, a not be seen in him there; there the men are as mad as he.
Royal family of Denmark:
Prince Hamlet, King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, The ghost / Old Hamlet
Family close to the royals: Polonius, Ophelia, Laertes
Friends of Hamlet: Horatio, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, The Players
Guards: Marcellus, Barnardo, Francisco
Royal Family of Norway: Fortinbras
Others: Reynaldo, Voltimand, Cornelius, Osric, Gravedigger, Sexton, Priest, Captain, Ambassadors from England
Johnny Depp as Hamlet??
Do you think that Johnny Depp would make a good 'Hamlet'?
My Other Literature Hubs
- Geoffrey Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales
- Tennyson and 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'
- Tennyson - 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' - Honour Glory?
- The Dungeon - A Poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- 'A Wife in London' and 'Drummer Hodge' by Thomas Hardy
- War Poetry: 'Break of Day in the Trenches' by Isaac Rosenberg - The Impact of war.
- 'Bertha' in Charlotte Brontes 'Jane Eyre' and Jean Rhyss 'Wide Sargasso Sea.'
- Michael Frayn's 'Spies' - the Beginning of the Novel
My Shakespeare Hubs
- Shakespeare's Hamlet - Did Gertrude Know that Claudius had Murdered her Husband?
- Shakespeare's Hamlet and his 'Foils' - Fortinbras and Laertes.
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' - Are they "half men"?
- Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' - What do the soliloquies reveal about Hamlet's true feelings and thoughts?
- Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Sources of Hamlet's Tragedy
- Shakespeare's Presentation of the Theme of Colonisation in The Tempest'.
- A Sonnet - By William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Hamlet on the Internet
- Full text - script of the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare
- Hamlet (legend) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Hamlet by William Shakespeare: Act 1. Scene I
- Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Search, Read, Study, Discuss.
- SparkNotes: Hamlet:
- Hamlet - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Shakespeare's Sources for Hamlet: Ur-Hamlet, Revenge tragedy, and the Danish Tragedy
- Amleth, Prince of Denmark