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 you?

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 inaction.

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 apparent.

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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