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We know from the text that Ophelia is innocent and there is no reason for Branagh to include this scene in his film. The two films depict the two leading female characters in a very different light.
Both directors illuminated Hamlet in different ways. Once scene that is significantly different in both films is Hamlet's famous "to be or not to be" scene. In keeping with the dark, melancholy mood, Zeffirelli shoots this scene in a crypt with hamlet wondering among the tombs of those who lived before him. This scene is powerful because it places Hamlet in the very place where he contemplates going. As he questions life beyond, he is standing around the remains of those who know exactly what lies on the other side - if only he could speak with them. Branagh's version of the scene shows Hamlet looking in a mirror. Branagh's Hamlet does appear to be as torn or mentally frail as Zeffirelli's Hamlet. Branagh obviously knows the lines but he does not acted with as much passion as Gibson does. The dark, depressing setting of Zeffirelli's scene is more fitting for the speech and more in tune with Hamlet's frame of mind.
Another scene that is remarkably different between the two adaptations is the ending of the play. In Zeffirelli's film, we are not aware of the Norwegian subplot. Laertes and Hamlet die as a direct result of Claudius' actions. This version of the play goes along with the original version in that we are sympathetic toward Hamlet. We have watched him throughout the entire movie become inward and more desperate. Because Zeffirelli removed the Fortenbras aspect from his adaptation, he has also removed the somewhat pleasant aspect of the ending as well. Instead, we must focus on Hamlet only.
While many may dislike Zeffirelli's exclusion of certain scenes and facts from this play, it is important to look at the omissions add rather than what they take away from the film.
By removing certain elements from the play, it is a film that is easily digestible. In other words, we are not forced to sit and watch almost four hours of hamlet. By whittling the film down to approximately two hours, Zeffirelli gives us only the essentials of the play. We see Hamlet as man alone and frail. This is no doubt a loose translation of the film but it does take away from the play itself. True to the play, we see Hamlet as a man that is torn by his inner conflict. He is removed from much of the play and to emphasize this, Zeffirelli often places Hamlet above the action hat occurs below. For example, Hamlet appears on a catwalk over the courtyard eavesdropping on Polonius reprimanding Ophelia for being green. We see him atop the shelves in Polonius' library and he also appears above Claudius and Polonius as they discuss Ophelia.
In addition, he jumps on top of a table, playing the fool for Claudius regarding Polonius' location.
He also stares down at Claudius while waiting for the ghost to return. All of the scenes illustrate how Hamlet is removed, if only slightly, from the "real" world. He is not all there and always seems just on the outside edge of what is happening.
Franco Zeffirrelli and Kenneth Branagh demonstrate the power of the director in their adaptations of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Zeffirrelli presents us with a hamlet that lives in a dark, grey world. He is sad and crestfallen; he is lost and, in many ways, does not want to be found. The setting highlights his dark mood and Zeffirrelli uses many props to develop his version of Hamlet. Branagh's Hamlet lives in a brighter world, although his inner world is filled with much torment. We also see how directors take privileges with what they omit and add to films. Zeffirrelli left much out while Branagh added questionable material. Both films are enjoyable regardless of their differences; however, Zeffirrelli gives us a Hamlet that seems closer to the man we envision when we think of Shakespeare's tormented price.
Hamlet. Dir. Kennth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie, Kate Winslet, and Billy Crystal. Warner Brothers, 1996.
Hamlet. Dir. Franco Zeffirrelli. Perf. Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, and Helena…[continue]
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