Hamlet (1990)

hamlet IMDb

I don’t care for Shakespeare. Actually, that’s an understatement. I openly dislike him. Having to watch Hamlet was especially hell for me, because if I must watch Shakespeare I at least prefer it to be a) a comedy, or b) an adaptation (and the more loosely adapted the better). This is all the original language, plus Mel Gibson, so I was destined to hate it from the start.

For two university graduates Ben and I really struggled to follow what was happening. I haven’t read the Bard in 10+ years, so I’d really lost my ear for the language. I mostly relied on the action and my previous knowledge of the play, which consists of The Lion King and one episode of Gilligan’s Island. Needless to say, I’m still not entirely sure what was going on most of the time.

The performances seem good, though without having a deep understanding of the text I can’t say this with any authority. Mel Gibson gives Hamlet a manic quality, which appears to fit the story. This is a man who is seeing his father’s ghost and seeking revenge based on said ghost’s advice. That certainly doesn’t sound sane. Helena Bonham Carter plays the abused Ophelia, and gives the character an almost angelic quality. Carter so often plays strange, quirky characters now that it’s always a treat to see her play someone “normal.” Ophelia may go crazy in the end, but up until then she is an average girl thrust into terrible circumstances by the adults surrounding her.

I almost wish I had watched this when I was younger and had a better chance of understanding and liking it. I used to understand Shakespeare easily, but this is a muscle that you apparently lose if you don’t use it. Mel Gibson has burned most of his goodwill with me by now, making it difficult to enjoy his older movies that I once loved (Forever Young). So while the performances felt earnest and passionate, I can’t say for sure if this is a good adaptation of the play or not.

Rating: D


I have never liked Shakespeare. I hate the dialogue that feels like it should have subtitles and the overly depressing endings. I feel like William Shakespeare is perhaps the most overrated writer of all time. I get that there are people out there who absolutely love his work, and good luck to them, but I am not one of those people. The only reason I own this movie is because I had to read Hamlet as part of a literature course at university. We had to write an essay comparing three different interpretations of the story. One was obvious– The Lion King– but I had to find two others. This early 90s version would end up being one, along with a more modern version starring Ethan Hawke. Thankfully, the Hawke version did not receive a theatrical release so we will not have to sit through this story twice. I can hear you saying ‘why’d you only choose movies?’ Anyone asking that is not allowed to keep reading this blog, because it is clear you have learnt nothing about my love for movies so far.

For those that don’t know the story of Hamlet (Mel Gibson), he is a Danish prince (with no hint of an accent or any inkling he might know a language other than English) whose father has just died. Hamlet is disgusted by the fact his mother (Glenn Close) has moved on so quickly, especially considering she has gone and married his uncle Claudius (Alan Bates), her former brother-in-law. Hamlet’s dad comes to him as a ghost and tells him he was murdered and that it was good ol Uncle Claudius that did it. Hamlet slowly starts going crazy trying to discover what the truth is, and also thinks he might be going crazy due to the fact his dead father is visiting him at night. Eventually everything is all wrapped up in a depressing Shakespeare shaped bow where everyone dies and I feel like I just wasted two hours.

I try to give a description of the plot in my reviews and I assume this is what happened. Like I said, the dialogue here might as well be in Swahili, I understood barely any of it. I really want to know if this is how people really spoke in the 1500s when Shakespeare was writing his ‘classics’. What a terrible place to live if it was. Everything would have seemed so pompous and uppity, it sounds awful. To come up with the plot for this movie, I am using what I saw happen onscreen, but also piecing it together with the obvious rip off, Disney’s The Lion King.

Some positives about this film: The sets are well done, it looks like a lot of detail has gone into recreating a Danish castle, even though it was filmed in Scotland. Gibson does a good job as the prince who is slowly going mad. I wish I understood what he was saying, because he certainly had a lot of passion while performing it.

I have no time for Shakespeare. As much as I like Mel Gibson, he cannot save this film. This is a depressing story that is completely overrated by English boffins and stuck up tossers who are trying to convince the general public that Shakespeare was a genius, when in reality, he was probably a melodramatic hack.

Rating: F

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