Kenneth Brannaugh and Franco Zefferelli are two directors that had different interpretations of the play “Hamlet,” written by William Shakespeare in the 1500’s. They both directed their own versions of how the play should be, and there were many differences, but there were also many similarities. Some of these differences include the environment, the dialogue, and the attitudes of the characters.
The most obvious difference between the two movies is the environment in which the films take place. In the Brannaugh movie, the castle is elegant and modern, containing many features that a medieval castle would not. Some of these features include trains, two-way mirrors, and electric chandeliers. The clothing of this movie also has many aspects that set it aside from the period in which the play was written. Brannaugh had the characters wear flamboyant garb, English-style uniforms, and multi-colored apparel. Zefferelli however wanted his movie to be more like the time that Shakespeare lived. His castle contained long, dim corridors, and cold stone walls covered in tapestries. The castle was made almost entirely of stone and lacked detail. The clothing of this version was also right along with the style of the 1500’s. The women wore long dark dresses, which were colored only in black and brown. The men wore cowls, shawls, and other bland garments. These two interpretations can decide how the viewer likes the movie right from the start. If the viewer is familiar with the play, he/she may dislike the Brannaugh version simply because it does not go along with their own idea of what “Hamlet” should be like. The Zefferelli film can also have the opposite effect. Viewers may enjoy this version more because it is more like their own mental picture. However, it all depends on the viewers’ interpretation.
Brannaugh decided that his movie would be best if he went exactly by the lines in the play. He never strayed from the book throughout the whole movie. This is another reason why this movie may be liked over the Zefferelli version. Zefferelli may have decided that the play was to long, and so, cut out several lines and put them in scenes other than the ones which they were intended for. Because scenes were cut out, some of the sub-textual meanings were lost. Some of the lines that Zefferelli saw as useless actually had a lot of meaning, which require the viewer to look deeper into the text.
The attitudes of the main characters vary a little from one version to the other. In Brannaugh’s film, the king is not all that wise, and he likes to party more than rule. In the other, he likes to drink, but also knows how to keep control. Ophelia seems very emotional and frail in the Brannaugh movie, and in Zeffereli’s, she seems stronger and more able, but at the same time needs direction. In the Zefferelli film, Gertrude loves Hamlet more than life itself, and is broken up when he gets mad at her. In Brannaugh’s, Gertrude loves Hamlet, but she does not let him get out of his place, she does her best to control him, but it is obvious that she cannot. Hamlet is the most significant difference as far as characters go. In the Zefferelli version, Hamlet was more physical when dealing with situations. He often threw tantrums, and was much rougher with Ophelia and Gertrude. In the bedroom scene after he kills Polonius, he throws his mother down, gets on top of her, physically threatens her, and is very forceful. Hamlet, in the other movie, is more verbal than physical. He puts his heart into what he says, and is very emotional with his lines. He has very revealing facial expressions also. Gibson has a straight face throughout the whole play, and Brannaugh has many “looks” which give away what he is feeling.
I feel that the Brannaugh version is the better of the two because of the superior casting, set and relation to the original work, which is the one that I see in my mind when I ponder Hamlet.