Shakespeare Plays Available in Video Format
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All’s Well That Ends Well
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Coriolanus
Cymbeline
Hamlet
Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
Julius Caesar
King John
King Lear
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Macbeth
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Othello
Pericles
Richard II
Richard III
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter’s Tale
Shakespeareana

Available versions

1948: Laurence Olivier

1964: Philip Saville

1964: Bill Colleran, John Gielgud

1964: Grigori Kozintsev

1969: Tony Richardson

1976: Celestino Coronada

1980: Rodney Bennett

1990: Kevin Kline

1990: Franco Zeffirelli

1996: Kenneth Branagh

2000: Michael Almereyda

2000: Campbell Scott, Eric Simonson

2002: Peter Brook

2003: Michael Mundell

2007: Alexander Fodor

2009: Simon Bowler

2009: Gregory Doran

2011: Bruce Ramsay

2014: Adam Hall

2015: Sarah Frankcom, Margaret Williams

2015: Dick Douglass, Obie Dean

2016: Jennifer Nicole Stang

2016: Simon Godwin


Adaptations

1992: Natalya Orlova, Dave Edwards (animated)

2004: Hamlet (opera, Ambroise Thomas)


Production drama

2003: Slings and Arrows (Season 1)


Educational

1990: Discovering Hamlet

2010: This is Hamlet

2013: Shakespeare Uncovered (Season 1, Ep. 6)


Related

1990: Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead

2008: Hamlet 2

2014: Hamlet A.D.D.


Hamlet
1990: Franco Zeffirelli

This is the last of Zeffirelli’s three colorful and cinematic treatments of Shakespeare, after the well-received productions of The Taming of the Shrew (1967) and Romeo and Juliet (1968). He brings to the enterprise a sure hand and a sensitivity for how cinematic conventions can enrich and enhance Shakespeare on film.

He also brings to the project some rather conventional (but still, I think, unjustified) assumptions about the shape of the play and the directions and relationships of its characters. In particular, he seems to have focused on the Oedipal element in the relationship of Hamlet and Gertrude (even in an age after Freudian psychology had been largely abandoned by serious psychologists), and some of the scenes between the two of them are oddly uncomfortable and (to my thinking) largely misleading.

The other consequence of this Freudian psychologizing treatment of the play is that Zeffirelli is forced (or inclined) to cut, push, pull, and generally rearrange the play fairly extensively to support his misreading. What remains is a cinematic extravaganza that is worth watching for some of its performances and for some glimpses of the truth beneath the characters, but while it’s amazing to look at, it stands on shaky narrative legs.

Zeffirelli garnered considerable scorn from the critical community by casting Mel Gibson in the role of Hamlet. Like almost everyone else who has played Hamlet on film, he was arguably somewhat too old for the role, but, though he doesn’t really do justice to the richness of the character, he carries the role off plausibly enough. Helena Bonham Carter is one of the best Ophelias I’ve seen, especially in portraying the madness toward the end of the play. Alan Bates brings considerable experience and genuine gravitas to the role of Claudius — offering a dark, depressed Claudius who is acutely conscious of his own guilt, battling to reconcile his ambition and his world-weariness. Old Hamlet is played with almost infinite melancholy by Paul Scofield (perhaps best known for his portrayal of Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, but a Shakespearean of long standing). Osric (a fairly trivial character) is played by John McEnery, who played Mercutio for Zeffirelli in Romeo and Juliet twenty-two years earlier, and Lucio in the BBC Shakespeare version of Measure for Measure.

I personally find Glenn Close’s portrayal of Gertrude somewhat less successful, though there are points where she manages to to achieve considerable intensity. She has given good performances elsewhere, so one must wonder whether the role is really beyond her capacities, or just a matter of direction. To me her diction falls flat, and (perhaps because of the direction Zeffirelli chose to take with it) she seems too preoccupied with Hamlet in a personal sense to provide the introspection that needs to emerge particularly from the scene in her chambers after the play, in which Polonius is killed.

Zeffirelli’s larger production design is interesting: he’s set the play largely in the time frame one might attribute to the original story, which is to say in Denmark in the earlier Middle Ages. This ties it back to the older sources (Saxo Grammaticus and Robert Belleforest), but generates certain problems. The duel at the end, using tenth-century weapons, is bizarre: one cannot really fence with broadswords in any kind of a sporting way. It is ludicrous to talk of a “touch” when someone is hacking as if chopping logs, or to fret about an untipped foil when the tip is really the least of one’s problems: broadswords were cutting and bashing weapons, not designed for stabbing.

The production values are of the first rank: the sets are tactile and immediate; the music is compelling. All in all, however, this is a version of Hamlet to be approached with caution and a grain of salt.

There are some scenes that some viewers will find objectionable or at least dubious, though nothing egregious.


Bernardo: Richarf Warwick

Claudius: Alan Bates

Francisco: Dave Duffy

Gertrude: Glenn Close

Ghost: Paul Scofield

Guildenstern: Sean Murray

Hamlet: Mel Gibson

Horatio: Stephen Dillane

Laertes: Nathaniel Parker

Lucianus: Roger Low

Marcellus: Christien Anholt

Ophelia: Helena Bonham Carter

Osric: John McEnery

Player King: Pete Postlethwaite

Player Queen: Christopher Fairbank

Player: Justin Case

Player: Marjorie Bell

Player: Pamela Sinclair

Player: Roy Evans

Player: Sarah Phillips

Player: Baby Simon Sinclair

Player: Rob York

Players: Ned Mendez

Polonius: Ian Holm

Reynaldo: Vernon Dobtcheff

Rosencrantz: Michael Maloney

Gravedigger: Trevor Peacock