Weekend Entertainment Guide

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MOVIES . . . HAMLET: "If Kenneth Branagh doesn’t win an Oscar for his four-hour, uncut ‘Hamlet,’ " says TIME's Richard Corliss, "he should at least cop a Chutzpah Award." Here's the most eclectic cast in movie history -- Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Gerard Depardieu, John Gielgud, Rosemary Harris, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, John Mills, Robin Williams, Kate Winslet and the Duke of Marlborough, to name but a dozen -- in the second longest film released by a major studio (after “Cleopatra”). To his credit, the actor-director-adapter approached this job not as a solemn duty or an egotistical stunt, but in the sensible belief that the greatest work in dramatic literature damn well deserved to be filmed in full. Next to this, all other movie versions, from Laurence Olivier's to Mel Gibson's, seem like samplings, a Reduced Shakespeare Company run-through of Hamlet's greatest hits. "Big and pretty, vigorous, thoughtful, this ‘Hamlet’ expands the story with helpful flashbacks; Yorick, Priam, Old Norway come alive as if from a vivid history book," Corliss notes. "The full version restores Shakespeare’s emphasis on court politics, with whispers of intrigue that establish Hamlet and Laertes as potential usurpers of Claudius' throne, and massed armies behind Hamlet. Here he might be a Henry V who's gone just this side of bonkers." The movie is filled with outstanding moments, but if there's a lapse, it's in the central performance. "Spuming his lines with catarrhal intakes of breath punctuating the bolts of rhetoric, Branagh is a whiz at making the poetry colloquial and intelligible; he spits out the 400-year-old verse like a rapmaster," says Corliss. "But he can't so easily make it poetic. What's lacking in this merchant of culture is Olivier's danger, the preening beauty and sweet delirium that makes an actor a star. Those are precisely the qualities that keep this admirable ‘Hamlet’ -- and ‘Hamlet’ -- from being a thrilling one."