Hamlet, prince of Denmark on screen - Hamlet, prince of Denmark

Four tragedies - Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Othello, the Moor of Venice, Macbeth and King Lear - David Bevington and David Scott Kastan 1988, 2005

Hamlet, prince of Denmark on screen
Hamlet, prince of Denmark


Shakespeare could not, of course, have imagined a world in which people would see performances of his plays projected onto large or small screens rather than acted live in theaters, but that has become the case. In the more than one hundred years since the first film of a Shakespeare play was made (in 1899, an excerpt from Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s production of King John), the screen has become Shakespeare’s proper medium no less than the stage or the printed page. If Shakespeare’s works are undisputedly literary classics and staples of our theatrical repertories, they have also inescapably become a part of the modern age’s love affair with film. In a movie theater, on a television screen, or on a DVD player, Shakespeare’s plays live for us, and thereby reach audiences much greater than those that fill our theaters.

It is, however, a development not always welcomed. Some critics complain that Shakespeare on screen is different from (and worse than) Shakespeare in the theater. Certainly it is a distinct experience to see a play in a darkened movie theater with actors larger than life. It is different, too, to see it on a television screen with actors smaller than they are in life, and where the experience of play-watching is inevitably more private than in any theater.

But there are obvious advantages as well. On screen, performances are preserved and allowed easily to circulate. If films of Shakespeare may sometimes lack the exhilarating provisionality of live theater, they gain the not insignificant benefit of easy accessibility. In a town without a theater company one can see a Shakespeare play virtually at will. Some newly filmed version of a Shakespeare play is seemingly released every year. A video or DVD can be rented even if the film itself has passed from the local cineplex. And on video we can replay—even interrupt—the performance, allowing it to repeat itself as we attend to details that might otherwise be missed.

Filmed Shakespeare is indeed different from staged Shakespeare or Shakespeare read, but it is no less valuable for being so. It provides a way—and for most of us the most convenient way—to see the plays. For people who cannot get to the theater and who find the printed text difficult to imagine as a theatrical experience, filmed Shakespeare offers easy access to a performance. For students for whom the language of a play often seems stilted and archaic, the enactment clarifies the psychological and social relations of the characters. For all of us who love Shakespeare, his availability on film gives us an archive of performances to be viewed and enjoyed again and again. It is no less an authentic experience than seeing Shakespeare in the theater, for the modern theater (even the self-conscious anachronisms like the rebuilt Globe) imposes its own anachronisms upon the plays (as indeed does a modern printed edition like this one). And arguably, as many like to claim, if Shakespeare lived today he would most likely have left Stratford for Hollywood.

Not surprisingly, Hamlet has appeared on screen more often than any other Shakespeare play. Not only is it arguably his best-known work; with its focus on a brooding central figure and its taut narrative of murder and courtly intrigue, it provides the kind of script that filmmakers yearn for. Although in itself an immense artistic challenge, it poses few of the logistical and conceptual difficulties encountered in translating a fantasy such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest, or the sprawling historical narratives of Antony and Cleopatra and the history plays, from stage to screen. Being intensely metatheatrical in its obsession with the world of actors and acting, it positively invites a bringing together and juxtaposition of the various media of theater, film, poetry, the visual arts, and music. Because it is also the perfect vehicle for a lead actor, the play has inspired a roster of film Hamlets that is essentially coexistent with the roster of great Shakespearean actors in modern times. Hamlet is made for television, and no less for the movie theater.

Among the fourteen or so silent Hamlets that precede the first talking film in 1930, the pioneer was a five-minute film of Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet in the dueling scene, shot at the Paris Exposition of 1900. Bernhardt had played the breeches part at the Adelphi in the previous year. The famous nineteenth-century actor Johnston Forbes-Robertson is similarly recorded as a sixty-year-old and painfully sensitive Hamlet in a short feature-length silent film of 1913. The most remarkable film of the silent era is from Germany in 1920. Here the Danish star Asta Nielsen plays Hamlet not in the ordinary sort of breeches role but as a Hamlet who really is a woman and who has been raised by her mother, Gertrude, with her gender kept secret in hopes that she may live to inherit the throne. Toward Ophelia this female Hamlet feels no erotic desire. Instead, she responds with jealousy when Horatio shows an interest in Ophelia, for this Hamlet is in love with Horatio. In the closing scene, as Hamlet lies dying in the lap of her beloved Horatio, the distraught friend loosens Hamlet’s neckcloth only to discover the astonishing truth: Hamlet has shapely breasts! The interpretation goes a long way toward explaining Hamlet’s passivity and repressed sexual feelings, even if at the expense of bending the story a little. Nielsen’s performance makes this seventy-eight-minute film worth watching.

Hamlet has been translated into widely divergent cultures worldwide: India (1935 in Hindi and 1955 in Urdu, directed by Kishore Sahu), West Germany (with Maximilian Schell, 1960), France (1962, in English, directed by Claude Chabrol), the Soviet Union (by Grigori Kozintsev, 1963—64), northern Ghana (1964, in Tongo, the home of the Frafra people), Canada (The Trouble with Hamlet, 1969, and a complete Hamlet in 1973), Brazil (Heranca, 1970), Japan (1977), Italy (Amleto, 1978), the Netherlands (1980), Poland (1981), Sweden (1984, with Stellan Skarsgârd as Hamlet), and still others. In an aggressively postmodernist Spanish film of 1976, directed by Celestino Coronado, twin Hamlets (Anthony and David Meyer) soliloquize jointly in a duologue before confronting Ophelia (Helen Mirren) from the contrasting points of view of a divided sensibility. “I did love you once,” one of them insists, only to be refuted by his twin: “I loved you not” (3.1.116—20).

Hamlet has also inspired an unusually large number of spoofs. One of the earliest, entitled To Be or Not to Be, produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch in 1942, features Jack Benny as a ham actor whose famous line “To be, or not to be?” turns out to be a secret signal that, unbeknownst to Benny himself, informs a Polish flyer (Robert Stack) sitting in the audience that Benny is now lengthily engaged in his stage performance and that the time has arrived for the flyer to hasten backstage and join Benny’s wife (Carole Lombard) in her dressing room for an assignation. Hamlet Goes Business (Finnish, 1987) is about an industrial giant in modern-day Helsinki who kills his brother to gain control of a firm called Swedish Rubber Ducks, only to be foiled by his sex-starved, blithering nephew Hamlet and a chauffeur (the Horatio equivalent) who is a trade union spy. In Last Action Hero (1993), a short sequence features Arnold Schwarzenegger as Hamlet, whose meditation on the unavoidable question “To be, or not to be?” leads him to conclude that it is “Not to be.” As he speaks, Elsinore Castle blows sky-high. W. S. Gilbert and G. B. Shaw had written send-ups on Hamlet earlier, but they are not recorded on film.

More seriously, Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (Japan, 1960) is about a thoughtful young businessman named Nishi (Toshiro Mifune) who suffers torments of conscience as he ponders the heavy assignment of avenging the death of his father in a suicide prompted by the bribe-taking of the villainous Iwabuchi (Takeshi Kato), now the powerful head of Japan Land Corporation.

Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), following upon his success with Henry V in 1944, ushered in an era in which Shakespeare filmmaking rightfully belonged to this much-acclaimed star of the British stage. The film did exceptionally well in Britain and the United States, becoming the first and only Shakespeare film to win an Academy Award until the advent of Shakespeare in Love (1998). It had overcome the opprobrium of being exclusively high culture; as an underling enthusiastically reported to the film’s financial backer, J. Arthur Rank, while the shooting was in progress, “Wonderful, Mr. Rank. You wouldn’t even know it was Shakespeare.” Olivier achieved this transformation in part by heavily cutting the script to bring it down to a digestible film length, removing the entire Fortinbras story as well as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The move had been made before on stage and was to be repeated in film; Hamlet is an unusually long script and probably was never acted in anything like its entirety in Shakespeare’s lifetime.

Beginning with a voice-over of Olivier intoning, “This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind,” as the camera pans past the outside window of Gertrude’s bedchamber, Olivier’s Hamlet seems wedded to the notion, derived from Ernest Jones’s Hamlet and Oedipus (who in turn had lifted the idea from Freud himself), that the hero is mesmerized by an Oedipal conflict compelling him to be indecisive about killing an uncle who is only doing what Hamlet himself unconsciously desires in Oedipal terms, that is, to repossess his mother as the object of his muted incestuous longing. Fortunately, Olivier does not stick to this concept as the film unfolds. He is alternately princely, despondent, furious, alienated, deeply caring, introspective, satiric, noble, rebellious, and loyal. The camera follows him through the winding passageways and staircases of Elsinore and up to the battlements as he encounters his father’s ghost, arraigns Ophelia (Jean Simmons) for inconstancy, scoffs at her father, Polonius (Felix Aylmer), and confronts his mother (Eileen Herlie) with her crime of desertion. The castle is indeed a living presence in this film, seen in black and white from crane shots high and low. Olivier meditates on suicide as he looks down from “the dreadful summit of the cliff / That beetles o’er its base into the sea” (1.4.70—1). In conversation with Horatio (Norman Wooland) and the gravedigger (Stanley Holloway) about death, Olivier’s Hamlet is wise, compassionate, and witty. The exciting dueling scene at the climax leads into an emblematic finale in which Claudius (Basil Sydney), mortally stricken and having been unable to prevent Gertrude from drinking from the poisoned cup, reaches out desperately toward the throne, the crown, and his queen as the guilty possessions that will now elude him forever. Hamlet dies reconciled to his mother, as Horatio, overwhelmed with grief, ends the film on the hope that “flights of angels” will sing Hamlet to his rest (5.2.362). By eliminating the Fortinbras story, Olivier is thus able to focus in conclusion on the death of a noble prince who, had he been invested in the throne, would have “proved most royal.” Soldiers carry the dead Hamlet to the ramparts. In Shakespeare’s text, the last words of encomium and the royal commands are given to Fortinbras; Olivier insists that the end belongs to Hamlet alone.

Grigori Kozintsev’s Hamlet (1964), also in black and white, and starring Innokenti Smoktunovsky as the protagonist and Elza Radzina-Szolkonis as Gertrude, is, as the director has explained, a visual study in the elemental natural forces of earth, sea, stone, and fire. Based on a production staged in Leningrad in 1954 after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 and then filmed by the USSR’s great director, who had himself been incarcerated in a prison camp during World War II, this version necessarily took on the political resonance of a struggle against oppression. By using the translation into Russian by Boris Pasternak and a powerful musical score by Dmitri Shostakovich (both of these men being identifiably defenders of artistic integrity in a totalitarian society), the director underscores Hamlet’s tormented distress at what, in Kozintsev’s words, “is happening in the prison state around him.” An iron corset and farthingale imprison Ophelia (Anastasia Vertinskaya), emblems of lost personal freedom. The gravedigger’s hammer echoes loudly as he nails down the lid of her coffin. The walls, drawbridge, and huge spiked portcullis of Elsinore are those of a state prison; iron weapons insistently call to mind the cruel oppression of war. The sea crashes ceaselessly against the shore. Amid stony fields, sand pours out of Yorick’s skull. A monumental runic cross in the graveyard, battered by time and human indifference, lacks one of its transverse members. “Life’s numberless trivia,” said Kozintsev, render that life “senseless,” “draining it of spiritual meaning.” Against this hollowness stands Hamlet as existentialist rebel and sacrificial victim.

The modern-dress Hamlet directed by John Gielgud on Broadway in 1964 and then translated by Bill Colleran into Electronovision that same year, with Richard Burton in the title role, achieved its transformation to television by means of several handheld cameras variously positioned in the course of three performances to provide a multitudinous perspective. Having then been collated into a single show, it was broadcast four times to some 976 movie theater audiences throughout the United States. This revolutionary process resulted in a dimly lit screen and poor sound quality, since no compromises were made with the lighting of the stage production, but the cutting effects made possible by such a process were at times riveting. Burton’s performance, too, though uneven, exudes power, intellect, and seriousness. Not for Burton is the brooding Hamlet of the Coleridgean tradition; this Hamlet swaggers, pouts, threatens, and brawls. A nearly uncut text also provides opportunities, not always expertly fulfilled, for Hume Cronyn as Polonius, Eileen Herlie (a veteran from Olivier’s film) as Gertrude, John Gielgud as the voice of the Ghost, Alfred Drake as a particularly unsuccessful Claudius, and Linda Marsh as Ophelia. Despite these many defects, we should no doubt be thankful that not all copies of this unusual film were destroyed, as stipulated in the contract. After only two days’ showing in the movie houses, to the considerable enrichment of Burton, the film is now available in voice recordings and videocassette.

Nicol Williamson’s rapid-fire but crisply clear delivery of Hamlet’s lines is a distinguishing feature of a 1969 film, successfully directed by Tony Richardson on stage and then shot for television at London’s Roundhouse Theatre. The shadowy atmosphere of a theater space that once had been a railway locomotive-turning shed adapts itself well to an Elsinore Castle in which the bare theater walls provide the setting, devoid of scenic effects. A white spotlight evokes the presence of the Ghost. Close-up shots enhance a claustrophic sense of no exit. Williamson is brilliant, surprising, recognizably an angry young man of the late sixties protesting against the swinish epicureanism of Claudius (Anthony Hopkins) and Gertrude (Judy Parfitt) and the mindless conformity of Polonius (Mark Dignam) and his dysfunctional family (Michael Pennington as a dissolute Laertes and Marianne Faithfull as an inanimate Ophelia, incestuously attracted to each other). Williamson, frenetic and restless, ungainly, intensely physical, endowed with a thick proletarian accent, is as much antitraditional Hamlet as antiestablishment rebel. The cast should be a strong one, with Hopkins as Claudius and Pennington as Laertes, but Williamson dominates and the humor of Hamlet has disappeared, along with Fortinbras.

A Hallmark Hall of Fame production for NBC, in 1970, heavily cut for television, is noteworthy for its distinguished cast, including Richard Chamberlain as Hamlet, Michael Redgrave as Polonius, Margaret Leighton as a sensual Gertrude, Richard Johnson as an unpleasant Claudius, and John Gielgud as the Ghost. Chamberlain’s passionate and idealistic Hamlet is a tortured soul, distressed as much by revulsion at his mother’s sexual carrying-on with Claudius as by the Ghost’s commandment of revenge. This is a highly intelligent and courageous Hamlet, not deserving the oblivion into which it has fallen. Gielgud, one of the great Hamlets on stage, plays the Ghost here, as he did in the Burton Electronovision Hamlet of 1964, which he also directed, but he never starred in a film version of this play.

Derek Jacobi, later to excel as Claudius in Branagh’s 1996 film Hamlet, is the star of the 1980 BBC production for Time-Life Television, produced by Cedric Messina and directed by Rodney Bennett. With its nearly intact Shakespearean text and unusually strong cast, including Claire Bloom as an intelligent and sympathetic Gertrude, Patrick Stewart as a guileful Claudius, and Eric Porter as a warm and sensitive Polonius, this is one of the best of the BBC Plays of Shakespeare series. Jacobi’s Hamlet is passionate, neurotic, and impetuous, by no means confined to introspection and hesitancy. A relatively uncluttered set relies on sparse details and props, keeping the focus on the actors.

Franco Zeffirelli’s decision to cast Mel Gibson as Hamlet for his 1990 production, along with Alan Bates as Claudius, Glenn Close as Gertrude, Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia, Ian Holm as Polonius, and Paul Scofield as the Ghost, was transparently a move to win audiences through celebrity appeal. And it did achieve a respectable commercial success, even if its $20 million gross in the United States (at a cost of $15 million) was far less than that of Gibson’s other action films. This, too, is an action film. Gibson is constantly on the move, athletically scaling the battlements, dealing brusquely and even violently with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, stabbing Polonius, browbeating and nearly raping his mother, overpowering his enemies in the final duel and catastrophe. Left behind in the wake of this manly display is the brooding, introspective Hamlet of theatrical tradition. A severe cutting of the play script to less than 40 percent of its original augments the onrush toward mayhem. The other major actors’ reputations are no less integral to their performances. Glenn Close, awesome as a dangerously passion-driven woman in Fatal Attraction, portrays Gertrude as a woman who knows what she wants. In this case she wants Claudius—as, indeed, what woman is supposed to be indifferent to the cuddly sex appeal of Alan Bates? Gertrude in this interpretation is anything but a hesitant, submissive woman who has married Claudius simply because he is importunate and accustomed to having his way; this Gertrude is almost as seriously guilty as her new husband because she so willingly embraces what fate and circumstance have given her. Claudius’s desire for Gertrude is so vibrant, and his male charm is so hearty in the midst of his nearly incessant drinking, that one nearly forgets that he has murdered his brother and has stolen the throne from his nephew. Bonham Carter is familiar as the attractive, jittery, feisty sufferer of an unhappy love relationship, as in many a Merchant-Ivory film, such as Twelfth Night or Howards End. Zeffirelli is not afraid to exploit celebrity typecasting of this sort. Nor does he deny the viewer any of his celebrated lavishness in scenic effects. The film is often gorgeous, as in its depiction of the graveyard where Ophelia is laid to her eternal rest. The costumes and architecture are richly appropriate to a film intent on visual authenticity. All is quite beautiful. The characters are a little one-dimensional.

In that same year, 1990, PBS television (in WNET/Thirteen’s Great Performances series) brought out a Hamlet directed by Kevin Kline and Kirk Browning, based on a Public Theater performance, with Kline as Hamlet. The timing was disastrous. Pitted hopelessly against the Zeffirelli-Gibson juggernaut, this version was broadcast only once and has generally been forgotten. This is a great pity. It is the opposite of its nemesis in every way: never showy or blatantly commercial, it focuses quietly on superb performances and intelligent interpretation of the script. Dana Ivey as Gertrude, Diane Venora as Ophelia, Brian Murray as Claudius, Michael Cumpsty as Laertes, Peter Francis James as Horatio, and especially Kline as Hamlet understand every word they say, and provide just the right hand and facial gestures. No doubt this version is penalized by its being a studio production that lacks physical movement, but the acting deserves to be savored.

Kenneth Branagh, having challenged Laurence Olivier with his Henry V (1989) and having succeeded no less well with Much Ado About Nothing (1993), simply had to do Hamlet. His great achievement, in 1996—97, was to insist on an uncut script. At four hours in length, it required an intermission for the screenings. The length manifestly has deterred some potential viewers from taking the plunge. What is so remarkable about the result, nevertheless, is that audiences can savor the entire role of Claudius, which is often severely cut by abridgments in the play’s fourth act. Derek Jacobi, in a brilliant performance, realizes the part in all its chilling complexity. Julie Christie as Gertrude shows emotional range in the scene where Hamlet confronts her with her guilt, as she moves from defensive denial to terror and then to tearful penitence. Kate Winslet as Ophelia moves vast distances from the hopeful hesitancy of a young lover to distraught insanity as she is confined to a straitjacket. Richard Briers’s Polonius is arrestingly original: no doddering old fool he, but a canny father and senior courtier all too aware that he is the object of Hamlet’s scorn. Exterior shots of Blenheim Palace and studio interiors representing its great halls and waiting rooms provide a handsome mise-enscène. The choice of a late-nineteenth-century time frame lends itself to elegantly handsome costuming.

At the same time, the film is plagued with erratic directorial judgments. Branagh himself, as Hamlet, is too frequently over the top; during the play within the play, he is obnoxious. Celebrity cameos, making a significant bow in the direction of commercial cachet, are sometimes briefly amusing but at other times grotesque. Robin Williams gives an offbeat performance as Osric, and Charlton Heston intones sonorously as the Player King, but Jack Lemmon as Marcellus and Gérard Depardieu as Reynaldo are disasters saved only by the brevity of their appearances. Billy Crystal as the Gravedigger, with his Brooklyn accent, seems to have wandered onto the wrong movie set. Silent appearances by John Gielgud and Judi Dench add little other than to the name-dropping roster. Branagh’s decision to be visually explicit about Ophelia’s loss of virginity to Hamlet seems a cheap and anachronistic way of characterizing their relationship, as though to argue that two young people like this could not be serious about each other without having gone to bed together. The earthquakelike moving of the earth in the scene with the Ghost seems concocted as a way of providing up-to-date special effects. The handsome Blenheim setting is subjected in the finale to a gratuitous invasion by Fortinbras’s army, smashing windows and leaping over railings in a sequence of which the Zeffirelli-Gibson action Hamlet might have been proud. Still, this is an important and generally successful film. It resonates powerfully with the crisis of the British monarchy in the late 1990s—the family scandals, the sensational death of Princess Diana in 1997, the fascinated, unhealthy voyeurism about private lives made garishly public, the recent collapse of Soviet communism, the millennial apprehensiveness about an approaching apocalypse and the end of history.

Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet (2000) demonstrates brilliantly how a low-budget, modern-setting adaptation can be made to illuminate the text that has inspired it. The story is translated to the concrete-and-steel canyons of Manhattan, where Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan) is the chief executive officer of Denmark Corporation, a multinational conglomerate headquartered near Times Square. Gertrude (Diane Venora), his recent bride, is a handsome suburban woman for whom luxurious creature comforts mean everything. Together they savor the sybaritic pleasures of stretch limousines and a private swimming pool in their luxury high-rise Elsinore Hotel. This claustrophobic world of privilege has its more menacing aspect as well, conveyed to us by images of a closed-circuit video security system. The Ghost of Hamlet’s father, wonderfully portrayed by the playwright Sam Shepard, appears and vanishes on the TV system and on the high stone balconies that serve as this movie’s battlements. Hamlet (Ethan Hawke), in this scenario, is a rebel with a cause. Outfitted in a Peruvian woolen hat and a studiously informal getup, he stands out as an alienated and misunderstood youth. His passion being for digital cameras and filmmaking, he naturally undertakes to shock his hated uncle with an experimental film—the equivalent of the Mousetrap play-within-the-play. Gadgetry meaningfully pervades this multimedia, reflexively metatheatrical film about film. Hamlet detects the wire that Polonius (Bill Murray) and Claudius have planted on Ophelia for her interview with Hamlet. He communicates with her on her answering machine. When Hamlet is being escorted on an overnight flight to England by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he takes advantage of their being sound asleep to investigate their laptop computer in the overhead luggage rack, and when he finds there the incriminating message they are carrying to the King of England ordering the execution of Hamlet, the Prince simply substitutes their names for his. These media stunts underscore the vast extent to which this Hamlet has been updated to the opening year of the twenty-first century. Some reviewers have been put off, but for many the wit of the visual metaphors carries the day. Murray is refreshingly intelligent as Polonius, and his children (Liev Schreiber as Laertes and Julia Stiles as Ophelia) make good sense of their scenes.

Other famous Hamlets have included Maurice Evans (NBC, April 26, 1953), John Neville (Old Vic production on CBS’s Show of the Month, February 24, 1959), and Christopher Plummer (BBC/Danmarks Radio, 1964), taped at Elsinore Castle, Denmark.


Filmography (selected)

1. 1900, Le duel d’Hamlet (3 minutes)


Clément Maurice, producer-director

Hamlet—Sarah Bernhardt

2. 1913 (59 minutes)


Cecil M. Hepworth, producer

E. Hay Plumb, director

Hamlet—Johnston Forbes-Robertson

Ophelia—Gertrude Elliot

Polonius—J. H. Barnes

Claudius—Walter Ringham

Marcellus—Robert Atkins

3. 1917, Amleto

Rodolfi Films

Eleuterio Rodolfi, director

Hamlet—Ruggero Ruggeri

Ophelia—Helena Makowska

4. 1920, Hamlet, The Drama of Vengeance


Svend Gade and Heinz Schall, directors

Hamlet—Asta Nielson

Gertrude—Mathilde Brandt

Ophelia—Lilly Jacobssen

5. 1933 (5 minutes, from 1.4 and 3.1)


A screen test for a film never made

Hamlet—John Barrymore

Marcellus—Donald Crisp

6. 1948

Two City Films

Laurence Olivier, producer and director

Hamlet—Laurence Olivier

Gertrude—Eileen Herlie

Ophelia—Jean Simmons

Polonius—Felix Aylmer

Claudius—Basil Sydney

Marcellus—Anthony Quayle

Horatio—Norman Wooland

Gravedigger—Stanley Holloway

7. 1953


Hallmark Hall of Fame

Albert McCleery, producer

George Schaeffer, director

Hamlet—Maurice Evans

Gertrude—Ruth Chatterton

Ophelia—Sarah Churchill

Claudius—George Schildkraut

8. 1959


Dupont Show of the Month

Michael Benthall, producer

Ralph Nelson, director

Hamlet—John Neville

Gertrude—Margaret Courtenay

Ophelia—Barbara Jefford

Claudius—Oliver Neville

9. 1964, Hamlet at Elsinore

BBC/Danmarks Radio

Philip Saville, director

Hamlet—Christopher Plummer

Polonius—Alec Clunes

Claudius—Robert Shaw

Horatio—Michael Caine

10. 1964

Classic Cinemas (film of stage performance at

Lunt-Fontanne Theatre)

John Gielgud, director

Hamlet—Richard Burton

Gertrude—Eileen Herlie

Ophelia—Linda Marsh

Polonius—Hume Cronyn

Claudius—Alfred Drake

Ghost—John Gielgud

11. 1964

Lenfilm (Russian trans. by Boris Pasternak, with English subtitles)

Grigori Kozintsev, director

Hamlet—Innokenti Smoktunovsky

Gertrude—Elza Radzina-Szolkonis

Ophelia—Anastasia Vertinskaya

Claudius—Michail Nazwanov

12. 1964, Hamile: The Tongo Hamlet

Ghana Films

Terry Bishop, director

Hamile/Hamlet—Kofi Middetan-Mends

Habiba/Ophelia—Mary Yirenkyi

Ibrahim/Polonius—Ernest Abbeyquaye

King/Claudius—Joe Akoror

Musa/Marcellus—Jacob Gharbin

13. 1969

Woodfall Productions/Columbia Pictures

Leslie Linder, producer

Tony Richardson, director

Hamlet—Nicol Williamson

Gertrude—Judy Parfitt

Ophelia—Marianne Faithfull

Polonius—Mark Dignam

Claudius—Anthony Hopkins

Laertes—Michael Pennington

14. 1970


Hallmark Hall of Fame

Peter Wood, director

Hamlet—Richard Chamberlain

Gertrude—Margaret Leighton

Ophelia—Clara Madden

Polonius—Michael Redgrave

Claudius—Richard Johnson

Ghost—John Gielgud

15. 1976


Celestino Coronado, producer and director

Hamlet and Ghost—Anthony Meyer/David Meyer

Ophelia and Gertrude—Helen Mirren

Polonius—Quentin Crisp

16. 1980

BBC/Time-Life Television

Cedric Messina, producer

Rodney Bennett, director

Hamlet—Derek Jacobi

Gertrude—Claire Bloom

Ophelia—Lalla Ward

Polonius—Eric Porter

Claudius—Patrick Stewart

17. 1990

Warner Brothers

Dyson Lovell, producer

Franco Zeffirelli, director

Hamlet—Mel Gibson

Gertrude—Glenn Close

Ophelia—Helena Bonham Carter

Polonius—Ian Holm

Claudius—Alan Bates

Ghost—Paul Scofield

Marcellus—Christian Anholt

18. 1990

PBS Television, Great Performances

Kirk Browning and Kevin Kline, directors

Hamlet—Kevin Kline

Gertrude—Dana Ivey

Ophelia—Diane Venora

Claudius—Brian Murray

Horatio—Peter Francis James

Laertes—Michael Cumpsty

19. 1996


David Barron, producer

Kenneth Branagh, director

Hamlet—Kenneth Branagh

Gertrude—Julie Christie

Ophelia—Kate Winslet

Claudius—Derek Jacobi

Polonius—Richard Briers

Marcellus—Jack Lemmon

20. 2000


Jason Blum and Andrew Fierberg, producers

Michael Almereyda, director

Hamlet—Ethan Hawke

Gertrude—Diane Venora

Ophelia—Julia Stiles

Claudius—Kyle MacLachlan

Polonius—Bill Murray

Ghost—Sam Shepard

Laertes—Liev Schreiber


1. 1942, To Be or Not to Be

United Artists

Ernst Lubitsch, producer and director

Jack Benny

Carole Lombard

Anne Bancroft

2. 1960, The Bad Sleep Well

Kurosawa Productions

Akira Kurosawa, producer and director

Toshiro Mifune

Kyoko Kagawa

Masyuki Mori

Takeshi Kato

3. 1983, To Be or Not to Be

20th Century Fox

Alan Johnson, director

Mel Brooks

Anne Bancroft

Charles Durning

4. 1987, Hamlet Goes Business (Finnish)

Villealfa Filmproduction

Aki Kaurismäki, director

Hamlet—Pirkka-Pekka Petelius

Ophelia—Kati Outinen

Gertrude—Elina Salo

Polonius—Esko Nikkari

5. 1995, The Fifteen-Minute Hamlet (by Tom Stoppard)

Cin-Ciné 19

Todd Louiso, director

Hamlet—Austin Pendleton

Ophelia—Todd Louiso

Claudius and Polonius—Ernest Perry Jr.