If you're willing to sit through Kenneth Branagh's new, 4-hour Hamlet, you'll be rewarded with a lavishly mounted, full-bodied movie that brings new dimensions to the time-honored play. Branagh is determined not to ape any of the previous versions: Olivier's 1948 haunting, black-and white; Tony Richardson's 1969 disappointingly theatrical; and most recently Zeffirelli's 1990 shallow vulgarization starring Mel Gibson. His bold adaptation depicts more explicitly the Freudian squabbles of the royal family: the turbulent relationship between the prince and his mother as well as Ophelia's erotic allure and descent into madness.
The Bard's text is only slightly edited–to make it more cinematic–though most of the lyrical monologues remain impressively intact. Branagh, looking trim and appealing in blond hair, has shrewdly surrounded himself with a stellar cast, both Anglo and American: a stirringly touching Julie Christie as Gertrude, a lovingly romantic Kate Winslet as Ophelia, an eloquent Derek Jacobi as Claudius–and in smaller parts, Jack Lemmon, Charlton Heston, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams.