Everyone likes to talk about Hamlet – it makes sense, since it’s one of the greatest plays by one of the greatest playwrights, you know… ever. Not only is it believed to have influenced all sorts of plays, novels and movie scripts since its creation, but there are more tv and movie adaptations of Hamlet than you can watch in a day (seriously, I’ve tried). One of the reasons Hamlet is so great is that it never gets old – people just keep going back and reinterpreting it in different contexts and with different actors and it never feels tired. So, in celebration of Hamlet Week, you should probably watch a few of them. Not sure where to start? The inconnu staff has some ideas.
A lion haunted by his father’s idea of who he should be. Someone at Disney pitched that. Someone actually pitched, “Let’s make Hamlet- WITH LIONS!” And thank God they did. The Lion King is not only a fantastic animated movie, it is an achievement in film adaptation. It may be the magic of the musical numbers or the ensemble voice cast: Hans Zimmer score, Elton John and Tim Rice lyrics; Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Nathan Lane, and Jeremy freakin’ Irons.
How about the story? For a kiddie film at the height of Disney Animation, The Lion King packs a punch facing the themes of duty, power, murder, and self-actualization. Introduced to the stable, loving glow of Mufasa’s wisdom, only to be thrust into Scar’s dastardly plans, we see more clearly the political environment Shakespeare deprived his audience at the start of the play.
Disney did a great job walking the line of tragedy and comedy, which is ever-so-prevalent in Hamlet. Simba finally overcomes his ghosts, (both literal and figurative) after being as moody and angsty as the melancholy Dane, to truly earn his place at Pride Rock.
While not being accurate to the Bard’s work, (don’t use this in place of SparkNotes) The Lion King captures the essence of Hamlet. I think of it as the success story that Hamlet himself never had, like in an alternate universe, where everyone but Claudius learned from their mistakes.
“So you’re telling me that The Doctor and Jean-Luc Picard did Hamlet???” Bitch I might be. No, don’t go. I don’t mean to be vague — David Tennant and Patrick Stewart are 100% in this version of Hamlet, and it is 100% the best version of any play that I have ever seen, ever. Am I being dramatic? Bitch, I am. But I’m also not exaggerating. David Tennant’s Hamlet is exactly as I imagined him when I first read the play: grieving, zany, bitter, but never “crazy.” He plays on the performative aspects of the character, convincing the others that he’s mad while assuring the audience that he is but mad “north-north-west.” (When the wind is southerly, he knows the difference between a hawk and a handsaw, and probably other things, too. Just an inference.)
Stewart’s Claudius is charming and chilling. Gertrude believable as both Queen and mother. Ophelia submissive but never weak. Polonius lovable despite his annoyances. The cast is flawless, and I’ve never been so profoundly moved by anything in my life. Like, fucking watch this soliloquy and tell me it didn’t make you shit your pants. I’ll wait.
The “To Be or Not To Be” speech happens as an angsty voiceover in a Blockbuster. What else do you expect from Ethan Hawke, honestly?
Let’s be honest. I watched this movie for the cast, and not because it was an adaptation of The Greatest Play of All Time According to Most People. That doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate the story, but the way an audience approaches a movie changes how they view it, and that’s important. I’m not here to talk about the dramaturgical choices that were made to determine what lines were cut or how scenes were interpreted. I’m here to tell you that Dale Cooper might be evil, and Ethan Hawke spent the 90s not aging. There’s some other things too, of course, like the fact that the director found some pretty cool ways to deal with Hamlet’s intense monologuing – my favorite of which were the moments when Hamlet would leave voicemails, especially in the ‘Get thee to a nunnery’ scene with Ophelia.
The costumes were awesome in a hilarious way, especially Ophelia’s pants, which could easily have fit the entire cast, and Polonius’ apartment is my new dream home. The thing about this version of Hamlet is you have to like the cast, because that’s really what this movie is about – it’s getting to watch these actors do Shakespeare, and the setting only serves to free the actors from acting in any period that isn’t modern. It’s not Hamlet, it’s Ethan Hawke as Hamlet, and it’s Julia Stiles as Ophelia, Billy Murray as Polonius, Kyle MacLachlan as Claudius. It works because the actors are good at what they’re doing, but sometimes I found myself waiting for Claudius to start talking to Diane through his tape recorder. (Bonus – this movie is on Netflix streaming!)
This is my kind of Hamlet movie. The crappy highschool drama teacher and his gang of delinquent youths create magic when they throw together an original production entitled “Hamlet 2” in order to save the drama department. Part School of Rock, part Save the Last Dance, part Amy Poehler, and mostly dirty jokes the Bard would approve of. “My life is a parody of a tragedy”. (And let’s not forget the musical number “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus”).
Strange Brew isn’t exactly Hamlet on ice, but the boys Bob and Doug McKenzie, who started humbly as a two-minute filler sketch on SCTV, find themselves scheming against the Elsinore brewery. They meet Pam, whose father dies and whose mother marries her uncle Claude, the evil mastermind behind a poisoned beer that’s distributed across Canada. When my dad first showed me Strange Brew way back when, I had no idea, but it’s very clear what’s going on here.
I don’t think it can or should be judged on its authenticity to Bill, that’s not why the Hamlet references are there. Combining slapstick and academia is such a high concept to me. Imagine Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society delivering all his lines in his Death to Smoochie outfit. Bob and Doug could be compared to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, but I favour the idea that a great story is worth retelling, even if the names are changed, and a hockey game distracts the king instead of a play.
Hamlet (1948), aka the Laurence Olivier version
Hamlet (1990), aka the Mel Gibson version
Hamlet (1996), aka the Kenneth Branagh version