Kenneth Branagh Q & A
Flicks, December 1996
by Patrick Stoner
Patrick Stoner: How long has
this project [the film version of HAMLET] been percolating inside
Kenneth Branagh: Fourteen years,
at least. I saw Derek Jacobi [who plays Claudius, the King in
Branagh's HAMLET] as Hamlet when I was sixteen, and I was fascinated
by the play. It has everything--intrigue, romance, politics,
violence, revenge, jealousy, wit. It plays itself out on such
a grand scale. I began then to think about in the way you see
it now--in the cold winter, in a castle with all of those doors,
those secrets, those mysteries.
Stoner: But how did you get them
to agree to let you do the whole thing? Nobody does an uncut
HAMLET. It takes four ...
Branagh: Four hours, or more.
I know. That was a problem, as you can imagine, Patrick. I made
the point that the full treatment of HAMLET reveals things that
the shorter versions--the ones understandably cut to fit the
more comfortable two hour expectation--can't quite give you.
Much of what happens in HAMLET is not in the action, but the
Stoner: The famous procrastination
of Hamlet. . .
Branagh: The procrastination,
the unspoken guilt -- of Claudius, surely, but also of Gertrude
[Hamlet's mother, played by Julie Christie] for marrying her
late husband's brother so hastily -- the confused love affair
with Ophelia, and especially the political intrigue.
Stoner: Yes, this is a HAMLET
where the political machinations of Polonius and others are more
Branagh: BECAUSE they have a
chance to play themselves out as Shakespeare wrote them. The
more you condense the play, the less developed are all of these
themes. I made this case for a few years to various groups and
studios, and--finally--Castle Rock said, "go ahead and do
it YOUR way -- the full four hours."
Stoner: Well, it's not like Shakespeare
didn't include his best work.
Branagh: INDEED! HAMLET is filled
with the most famous lines of any play in the English language.
They tumble over top of each other. I remember standing offstage
when I was younger and someone said, jokingly, "Shakespeare
wasn't so clever; this is just one cliche after another."
It seems that way when you hear them crammed together in a shortened
version because you always leave the famous lines that are now
cliches in when you cut it. A full version of the play gives
you time to digest them and appreciate them in the full course
of the evening.
Stoner: I remember you telling
me, when you first came to America to promote HENRY V, that you
hoped to get this HAMLET done. That seems a while ago now.
Branagh: Yes, you were there
when this all began to open up for me. Public television was
a big part of that. I'll always remember those early days when
few people wanted to talk to me. They made these days possible.
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