Hamlet (1990 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Produced by Bruce Davey
Dyson Lovell
Written by Franco Zeffirelli
Christopher De Vore
Based on The play by William Shakespeare
Starring Mel Gibson
Glenn Close
Alan Bates
Paul Scofield
Ian Holm
Helena Bonham Carter
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography David Watkin
Edited by Richard Marden
Nelson Entertainment
Icon Productions
Carolco Pictures
Distributed by Warner Bros. (US) StudioCanal
Universal Pictures (International)
Release dates
December 19, 1990 (limited)
January 18, 1991
Running time
134 minutes[1]
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $20,710,451

Hamlet is a 1990 drama film based on the Shakespearean tragedy of the same name directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Mel Gibson as the eponymous character. The film also features Glenn Close, Alan Bates, Paul Scofield, Ian Holm, Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Dillane, and Nathaniel Parker. It is notable for being the first film from Icon Productions, a company co-founded by Gibson.


In Denmark, Prince Hamlet finds himself involved in a conspiracy of power to the royal palace. Cruel uncle Claudius kills his brother and takes the power of the kingdom. After an encounter with the restless ghost of his murdered father, Hamlet feigns madness and plots to take vengeance.


The cast includes three actors - Paul Scofield, Alan Bates, and Ian Holm - who had themselves played Hamlet on stage or in film. It also features two actors - Stephen Dillane and Michael Maloney - who went on to play Hamlet onstage. Maloney later played Laertes in Kenneth Branagh's 1996 adaptation.


Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven, Blackness Castle, and Dover Castle were used as locations in the film. Dover Castle provided the main location for Elsinore Castle, the home of Hamlet and his family. [2]

Adaptation and interpretation[edit]

Film scholar Deborah Cartmell has suggested that Zeffirelli's Shakespeare films are appealing because they are "sensual rather than cerebral", an approach by which he aims to make Shakespeare "even more popular".[3] To this end, he cast Gibson — then famous for the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon films — in the title role. Cartmell also notes that the text is drastically cut, but with the effect of enhancing the roles of the women.

J. Lawrence Guntner has suggested that Zeffirelli's cinematography borrows heavily from the action film genre that made Gibson famous, noting that its average shot length is less than six seconds.[4] In casting Gibson, the director has been said to have made the star's reputation part of the performance, encouraging the audience "to see the Gibson that they have come to expect from his other films".[5] Indeed, Gibson was cast after Zeffirelli watched his character, Martin Riggs, contemplate suicide in Lethal Weapon.[6] The fight between Hamlet and Laertes is an example of using Gibson's experience in action movies; Gibson handily depicts Hamlet as an experienced fencer.


Critical response[edit]

Hamlet was well received by most critics and currently holds a 76% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus, "It may lack some of the depth and complexity of the play, but Mel Gibson and Franco Zeffirelli make a surprisingly successful team."[7]

Noted critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, calling Mel Gibson's portrayal of the Danish Prince "a strong, intelligent performance."[8] Caryn James of The New York Times praised Zeffirelli's "naturalistic, emotionally-charged" direction and also commended Gibson's "visceral" performance, describing it as "strong, intelligent and safely beyond ridicule."[9]

Despite a mostly positive response, some critics such as Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film a negative review, calling Gibson's performance "an earnest but pedestrian reading."[10]


The movie received two Academy Awards nominations, for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design (Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo).[11]


  1. ^ "HAMLET (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 1991-07-01. Retrieved 2013-07-27. 
  2. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office Hamlet Film Focus". 
  3. ^ ^ Cartmell, Deborah Franco Zeffirelli and Shakespeare in Jackson, Russell (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Screen (Cambridge University Press, second edition, 2007) p.216, quoting a Zeffirelli interview given to The South Bank Show in December 1997
  4. ^ Guntner, J. Lawrence: Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear on film in Jackson, Russell (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film (Cambridge University Press, second edition, 2007) p. 124
  5. ^ Daniel Quigley, Double Exposure, in Shakespeare Bulletin winter 1993 pp.38-9, cited by Harry Keyishian, Shakespeare and Movie Genre: The Case of Hamlet in Jackson, Russell (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film (second edition, Cambridge University Press, 2007) p.77
  6. ^ Keyishian, pp.72-81
  7. ^ "Hamlet (1990)". Rotten Tomatoes. IGN Entertainment, Inc. Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (18 January 1991). "Hamlet (1990)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  9. ^ James, Caryn (19 January 1991). "Hamlet (1990)". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  10. ^ Travers, Peter (18 January 1991). "Hamlet". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  11. ^ "The 63rd Academy Awards (1991) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-02. 

External links[edit]