Hamlet (1990): Zeffirelli’s Oscar Nominated Version, Starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close

Franco Zeffirelli’s version of Hamlet is a decent (but not great) version of the much filmed Shaespearean play.  As acted by Mel Gibson, it’s inferior to Olivier’s Oscar-winning “Hamlet” in 1948, as well as to Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 rendition, with Branagh in the lead.

Zeffirelli’s third big-screen Shakespeare adaptation, after “Romeo and Juliet” and “Otello,” is colorful and entertaining but not particularly deep.

Mel Gibson, then known for his action-comedy films, is cast as the titular prince of Denmark, who comes home to his family’s Elsinore cast after  attending school in Germany. Upon return, he finds out that his father has died and that his uncle Claudius (Alan Bates) is the new king, now married to his mother, Gertrude (Glenn Close, miscast).

To find out who the real killer is, Hamlet stages a theatrical scene resembling his father’s death. Claudius is upset by the production and plans to murder Hamlet.

In the ensuing confusion, intrigue, and chaos, Hamlet accidentally kills Polonious (Ian Holm), instead of Claudius. Meanhwile, Hamlet’s sweetheart Ophelia (Helena Bonham Carter) goes mad and commits suicide.

The movie is never as tragic as Olivier’s Oscar-winning version, and never as enthralling or perceptive as Kenneth Branagh’s.

While Gibson gives an energetic if shallow performance, Glenn Close is miscast as Gertrude, and Helene Bonham Carter is weak as Ophelia. The secondary cast is better, especially Paul Scofield as the Ghost.


Oscar Nominations: 2

Art Direction-Set Decoration: Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo

Costume Design: Maurizio Millenotti


Oscar Awards: None


Oscar Context:

The Art Direction Oscar went to “Dick Tracy.”

Franca Squarciapino won the Costume Design Oscar for “Cyrano de Bergerac.”



Running time: 135 Minutes.

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli

Screenplay adaptation: Franco Zeffirelli

Released December 19, 1990.

DVD: February 24, 2004