Franco Zeffirelli is a director who has already given the world a pair of excellent Shakespearean dramas, in the form of "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Taming of the Shrew," back in the late '60s.
Mel Gibson (yes, Mad Max, Lethal Weapon, Mel ‘William Wallace’ Gibson) takes the lead as The Dane himself and he is good, surprisingly excellent in fact. A fine supporting cast ably backs him in the form of Glenn Close as Gertrude, Alan Bates on fine form as the usurper Claudius, Paul Scofield as the revenge hungry ghost of Hamlet's father, Ian Holm ably rounding out the meddling advisor Polonius and even Helena Bonham-Carter waddles, somewhat underused, through the piece as the ill-fated Ophelia.
This 1990 version strives for a sense of realism, with both its stunning and remarkably accurate medieval sets and with its thoughtful and truthful costumes. Hamlet intentionally supports itself with very little in the way of a musical score, and this adds to the atmosphere and to the loneliness of the young Prince behind his cloak of self enforced madness.
On it’s release, hackneyed purists quibbled with some of the liberties Zeffirelli had taken. The 80-year-old Italian director had swapped some scenes and lost others, and they objected still loader to the ‘less brooding’ tone of the overall production and to the 'flipancy' of the lead character. But then, if memory serves, there were complaints about his "Romeo and Juliet" and his "Taming of the Shrew", though these are now generally regarded as two of the finest translations to celluloid.
Hamlet deserves a place by their side.
Movie: 4 out of 5
Extras: Alas none available on my VHS review version...