Kenneth Branagh: On Hamlet

"By this time I had had two experiences of filming Shakespeare and my film-maker's instincts made me long--even as I explored it within a fine production like Adrian's--to take the play into the cinema in its fullest form. I longed to allow audiences to join Fortinbras on the plain in Norway, to be transported, as Hamlet is in his mind's eyes, back to Troy and see Priam and Hecuba. I felt that all my experience was leading me in one direction." (Kenneth Branagh, from the introduction to his screenplay of HAMLET)

Enthusiastic, highly-visual, and determined. As the recent National Film Theatre retrospective in London shows, Branagh knows how to make it happen. Bravo to the NFT for helping to celebrate his contributions to the world of film. As well as offerings of his film and broadcast work, the retrospective included an interview, and a taste of Branagh's upcoming Loves' Labours Lost. The interview was informative and interesting.

But it was also funny.

Although quite serious about all of his film work, which has distinct visual stylings and uses recurring favorite tools, Branagh's filmmaking also--by design--incorporates joy and fun in both process and product. Branagh is ready with a quip or barb, aimed at himself as often as anyone else. This theatrical banter and ability to put his actors at ease is one reason why many actors enjoy working with him again (and again). By all accounts, Branagh tries to encourage a truly collaborative feeling to "making a film"--much in the style of a theatre production.

The film diary for Hamlet was written by Russell Jackson, who is a Shakespeare scholar and Branagh's textual advisor. It reveals Branagh's dedication and relentless energies in making a four-hour tour-de-force an enjoyable experience for everyone involved--while making his movie. It's as if he said, "Okay, we're making a four-hour epic of Hamlet -and we're going to have FUN!" Sure, it's a tall order, but who better to undertake the task?

"There was an obsessional quality about wanting to do this and getting it done," Derek Jacobi says. "Without that, without the passion he put into it, it would never have gotten off the ground. When you think of the idea of a four-hour 'Hamlet' on film, it needed someone of Ken's obsessive nature." Branagh quibbles with that characterization of his effort. "Passionate enthusiasm, I suppose I'd prefer to call it," he says. "In order to make any kind of film, you have to be faintly obsessive about persuading people."

Excerpts from the Film Diary here.

The text of Hamlet from The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

The following are images from his film masterwork, Hamlet.

"The steaming caterpillar"--Branagh, from his Hamlet screenplay



Hamlet and Horatio



"But you must know, your father lost a father . . . "
Branagh favors this trio shot--a center figure, surrounded by a figure at each ear.


"I have been in continual practice: I shall win at the odds."



For the Guardian interview with Kenneth Branagh at the NFT Retrospective, go here.

What's Up Stage: For Sir Kenneth Branagh's Macbeth go here.

For the National Film Theatre Programme Notes for the Kenneth Branagh retrospective, go here.

For an interview with Kenneth Branagh during the film production of HAMLET go here.

For an account of the London screening of Hamlet to benefit the Panico Media Workshop, go here.

For "The Readiness is All: The Making of Hamlet" go here.

For a review of "Discovering Hamlet" a short film which documents Branagh's early take on the stage role under the direction of Sir Derek Jacobi, go here.

For a New York Times article on the last major production of Hamlet before the year 2000, at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, go here.

Do you have any Hamlet film or stage photos you'd like to share?
Or perhaps some Hamlet wav. sound files to share? Please drop us a line here.

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