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cast: Kevin Kline, Dana Ivey, Brian Murray, and Diane Verona

director: Kevin Kline

167 minutes (PG) 1990 widescreen ratio 16:9
Metrodome Ovation DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to buy on video

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Emma French
This low budget made-for-TV Hamlet is clearly aimed primarily at an educational audience, and therefore, though it allows the wonderful language of the play to be enjoyed with few distractions, lacks excitement or any real sense of the new. Kevin Kline's take on arguably the most well known play in the Western canon goes back to basics with a bare stage, modern and unassuming costumes and the original verse. The production, much like the flagship BBC Shakespeare series, is clearly aiming for authenticity. Ironically, however, it is almost certainly the case that a production in Shakespeare's day would have made a considerably more imaginative use of scenery, costuming and stage effects.
   Perhaps unsurprisingly given his performances in A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and Dave (1993), Kline handles his "antic disposition" scenes well. He is less assured in the big emotional set pieces. Bizarrely, he also elects to take Hamlet's melancholy entirely literally, and appears in most scenes with tears running down his face. Conforming to the late 20th century Freudian trend, the incest theme is played up in the scenes between both Hamlet and Gertrude and between Ophelia and Laertes. Diane Venora, a stalwart of filmed Shakespeare adaptations, puts in a surprisingly colourless and banal performance as Ophelia. It is an unpromising precursor to her sensual and animated turn as Lady Capulet in Baz Luhrmann's 1996 William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, where she displays an ease with the Shakespearean language which in Kline's Hamlet she signally lacks, along with many of the other characters, particularly the minor ones.
   The big soliloquies are enunciated with great care. This undoubtedly deprives them of some of their emotional impact, but it leverages off their thrill of instant familiarity, and above all, appears to make them easily comprehensible and teachable, which is the film's prime goal.
   In addition to the standard scene selection feature, the DVD disc includes a Kevin Kline biography, amusingly honest about his involvement in the disastrous Wild Wild West, and filmography. The disc also offers both the full film and the film split into parts one and two, split conventionally just before the staging of The Mousetrap, as many theatre productions are. Though there is nothing to really dislike in this version of Hamlet, given the strength of the competition not only from Olivier and Zeffirelli's seminal filmed adaptations but also from the underrated and overlooked 2000 indie Hamlet directed by Michael Almereyda with Ethan Hawke as the eponymous hero, it is hard to escape the feeling that Kline ought to have tried just a little bit harder to stand out from the pack.

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