Hamlet: Film Review

Hamlet - P - 2014
This heavily truncated, modern-day adaption is useful only for those too lazy to read the ClffsNotes.

Director/adapter/star Bruce Ramsay offers a ruthlessly stripped-down cinematic version of Shakespeare's classic.

Far be it from this critic to complain about abridged versions of Shakespeare, but Bruce Ramsay’s ruthlessly stripped-down cinematic version of Hamlet proves to have little reason for being other than as a showcase for its Canadian director/star and possibly as an alternative to students too lazy to read the CliffsNotes. But they do so at their peril, since this rendition, running a mere 87 minutes including a lengthy credit sequence, omits so many characters, plot elements and famous passages that a failing grade may result.

Ramsay, who also adapted the text and plays the title role, has set the action in a palatial estate in post-World War II London. There are numerous changes to the play, such as an early sequence in which Hamlet engages in a torrid zipless encounter with Ophelia (a very sexy Lara Gilchrist) which only make us wonder why he’s so melancholy.

But of course he is, motivated by the recent death of his father and the subsequent quickie remarriage of his mother Gertrude (Gillian Barber) to his uncle Claudius (Peter Wingfield). Not long after, the ghost of his father (Russell Roberts) makes an appearance to set the truncated plot in motion.

This modern-dress version dutifully includes many of the iconic speeches, such as Polonius’ (Duncan Fraser) “To thine own self be true” address, while omitting many others. Set over the course of a single night, it compresses the plot to such a severe degree that it seems more ludicrous than usual, and those familiar with the piece will surely miss the many familiar scenes not included.

That said, the film does boast an evocative, noirish atmosphere, and the breathless pacing certainly doesn’t induce boredom. Unfortunately, Ramsay’s performance, surely the film’s raison d’etre, is too bland and emotionally unexpressive to sustain interest. The supporting players fare better, with Gilchrist well handling Ophelia’s descent into madness and Barber and Wingfield so impressive as Gertrude and Claudius that the characters take on an unexpected sympathy.

Ultimately, there’s little to distinguish the proceedings other than their brevity. By the time the piece reaches its familiar death-strewn conclusion, with guns taking the place of swords, it has come to seem like little more than an ill-conceived exercise.

(Breaking Glass Pictures)

Production: Hamlet Productions

Cast: Bruce Ramsay, Lara Gilchrist, Peter Wingfield, Gillian Barber, Duncan Fraser, Haig Sutherland, Stephen Lobo

Director/Adaptor: Bruce Ramsay

Producers: John Cassini, Jacquie Gold, Bruce Ramsay

Executive producers: Simon Barry, David Hansen

Director of photography: Michael C. Blundell

Editors: Franco Pante, Lisa Robison

Production designer: Paul Joyal

Costume designer: Jenni Gullett

Composer: Schaun Tozer

Not rated, 87 min.