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Actor Kenneth Branagh has a brilliant analytical and critical theatrical mind, as he has demonstrated during his frequent appearances on the Charlie Rose show. However, I think that he went a little overboard during his interview with Trey Graham (Talking Pictures, 1/31) in suggesting that his big splashy film version of Hamlet is the last and final word on how the play should be interpreted. I would be a little more sympathetic to his views if he had humbly conceded that he is up against 500 years of theatrical history.
My chief objection to Branagh’s critique, under the guise of an interview, is his unqualified opinion that Hamlet is not introspective. This strikes me as absolute nonsense and places Branagh in the dubious position of portraying the character as a kind of swashbuckling man of action, running up and down halls, climbing walls, slamming doors, and performing other physical actionsall to create the illusion that Hamlet is just a plain, ordinary guy, not a thinking person. Without admitting it, Branagh in this production has backed off from what the text tells usthat Hamlet is an intellectualand furthermore, that he openly gives vent to the feminine, intuitive side of his nature. All the great Hamlets of modern times, and I have seen most of then, have gotten into the character’s skull and have not worried about the externals, which is something that seems to terrify Branagh. What is he afraid of?
In spite of Branagh’s brilliant explication de text and exuberant chutzpah, his Hamlet will ultimately be judged by those who view the play from a critical distance, not by the guy who directed it and played the leading role. At the moment, on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give his version a 5, and that may be generous.