Mel Gibson’s Hamlet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, is by no means a sustained great performance but it’s one hellofva try and thus respectable. If you’re a Shakespeare purist, you’ll argue successfully there isn’t much left of the story of the tormented prince because Zeffirelli trimmed or eliminated much of the text; in short, this version has been synopsized. If you were one of the those whose juices flowed while watching Gibson (when he was in his prime), nothing will matter except that he’s in it. Wanting to make Hamlet after seeing Gibson in Lethal Weapon, bravely assessing that Olivier’s was “too soft, too much like a ballerina...a wonderful piece of theatre, but you wouldn’t believe for a moment that he was the Prince of Denmark”—Robert Helpmann in fact did the play as ballet—Zeffirelli utilized Gibson’s winsomeness and guided the play to make a 90s interpretation of Hamlet as sex-obsessed. The gamble has to traverse some difficulties before eventually paying off: the first 45 minutes are bogged down by too many close-ups on Gibson’s booze-bloated face, his butch clownish bouncing from one balcony or castle’s ledge to another might induce recoil, and we have to get passed his hair and its changing hues due to the lighting, which helps makes his mop conspicuous when freshly washed. Getting to the pivotal play-within-the-play revelation about Hamlet’s mother’s sudden wedding to the brother of her recently deceased husband (Paul Scofield in magnificent voice), there’s an acute transformation, as Gibson’s energy and, of course, Hamlet’s realization of the perfidy permitting the marriage that is now public ridicule, shift into an altogether different movie. The atmosphere abruptly steams with betrayal and corruption, around which this Hamlet is an emotional maelstrom. As displayed in The Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet, Zeffirelli’s gift is the delirious worship of the physical and here he makes us reel from the raw incestuous charge emitting from Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, played by Glenn Close. Flabby in the morals department no matter whose version, Close’s Gertrude, in Lady Godiva do, goes the full distance and is so absolutely thrilling that she causes outbreaks of gooseflesh. Even if contestable that Shakespeare intended the familial hots, would Close have wanted to play her any other way? Unlike other Gertrudes on screen, she’s definitive and, as actress, exemplifying supportiveness. For those who worry about Zeffirelli’s infamous overdosing of Cimmerian effects, this production is fairly free of the dusty tapestries and oppressive junkiness that have been deluxe in his filmed operas. Some of it is cheesy, however: as Claudius, Alan Bates wears a brown fur cape that’s like a K-Mart bathroom rug, and Close wears a blue-green frock that could be a heavily laundered chenille bedspread. Perhaps Zeffirelli had visions of Twitter and Instagram, as his production is tailored to zapper-minded audiences who need Shakespeare headlined as mix of hyperdrama and pre-Freudian sexology—a disposable compost of barbaric glory and disease.



Text COPYRIGHT © 2005 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.