So many uneven adaptations of William Shakespeare's Hamlet have been filmed that a Shakespeare fan could probably cobble together a decent version of the tragedy just by editing together the assorted scenes and speeches that worked best. If that ever happens, little footage from the Campbell Scott production is likely to make the cut. Staged and filmed for Hallmark Home Entertainment, the adaptation (which stars Scott, who also co-directed and co-produced) suffers from a general lack of purpose. The past decade has seen such movie Hamlets as Franco Zeffirelli's fairly action-oriented Mel Gibson vehicle, Kenneth Branagh's full-text epic, and Michael Almereyda's edgy meditation on contemporary New York society and the corporate milieu. In the midst of that thicket, Scott's more traditional take gets lost, especially since only minimal attempts were made to spruce up the material. Scott's Hamlet is three hours long, set in turn-of-the-century New York, and scored with somewhat jazzy music; it also features black actors in the roles of Ophelia (Lisa Gay Hamilton), Laertes (Roger Guenveur Smith), and Polonius (Roscoe Lee Browne). The racial subtext and era transplant might have seemed daring 30 or 40 years ago, but recasting Shakespeare has become the dreary norm, and Scott's choices feel more arbitrary than visionary. The performances are what count, and though Scott often gets underrated as an actor, the lack of buzz surrounding his Hamlet is apt. When he speaks to his cohorts about the appearance of his father's ghost or his plot to expose his uncle's murderous rise to power, he delivers Shakespeare's lines with sensitivity and fervor. But he zips through his monologues with the carelessness of a showboating high-school thespian, counting on dramatic pauses and tortured shouting to convey Hamlet's complex layers of rage, lovesickness, and madness. The rest of the cast is equally hit-or-miss, with the exception of the hitless duo of Hamilton and (shockingly) New York Shakespeare Festival veteran Browne, who both recite with little emotion beyond expressions of mild concern. By and large, Scott's Hamlet has been staged with clarity and competency, and a few moments might well be worthy for the ultimate Hamlet mega-mix. But the video-library shelves are already overflowing with more vital adaptations, so there's no real reason to blow the dust off this one.
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