Sunday, April 7, 2013

Act IV, Scene 4 - Branagh '96

The frozen lake near Elsinore dissolves into a frozen waste between Denmark's mountains, where figures on horseback appear from out of the mist. This is Fortinbras, followed by his Captain, on their way to Poland. Fortinbras, the so-called "tender and delicate prince" seems more like a jaded sociopath, with his cold, insincere eyes, and his Captain is so curt in his line deliveries, we might well believe he does not like his Prince, just as he does not like his plans. If Fortinbras notices, he does not care. Wide shots reveal a large marching army, and it's from a certain vantage point that Hamlet will meet the Captain and be able to survey the military force walking through his country. The way these shots are designed already evoke Hamlet's exile, small figures in panoramic, white landscapes, and the image will be taken to its extreme in the end.

Hamlet isn't grilling the Captain in this version, rather more puzzled than irate (except with Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, flies buzzing at his ears), and he introspectively realizes that wealth and peace breed war by making men like Fortinbras restless to the point of launching capricious forays into other nations in search of glory. When we compare the two princes, we might see Hamlet as a man so preoccupied that he cannot choose the right course of action, whereas Fortinbras lacks any kind of preoccupation, and so must spring into action, ANY action, to chase the doldrums away.
In a presentational twist, Hamlet speaks softly with the Captain, but as the music swells behind him and the camera tracks back and back and back, he operatically shouts his soliloquy as if delivering it to an army. And he is, an army of one. Himself. He is, at this moment, convincing himself to finally commit to action. There's an interesting discussion between Branagh and his producer in the director's commentary about why so many adaptations cut this speech, that many directors see it as redundant. Branagh makes the case that unlike Hamlet's other calls to action, this one is a cooler, more intellectual, assessment of why he must do what he must do, and that as such, it is a more auto-convincing argument. It's one thing to feel something, but another to understand the logic of it.

And of course, the dramatic presentation of the speech makes for a better act break - leading to an intermission/disc change in bloody red letters - than a more intimate moment might otherwise have been. The music is big, the words are large, but the man himself is rendered small in the shot, a single individual defiant before his destiny, affairs of state, and a hostile world, the backdrop against which this drama is played. It is Hamlet in scale with the universe of the play, so to speak, and in being smaller becomes bigger.


Anonymous said...

I have been following your site for several years, and was looking forward to your views on this scene in Branagh’s Hamlet. Together with Claudius’ confessional soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 3 (“Oh, my offense is rank, …”) Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act 4, Scene 4 is my favorite part of the play. It is not redundant, but marks the point where Hamlet finally decides to stop “thinking too precisely on the event,” and to act. Branagh gives this truly great soliloquy the emphasis it deserves.
Thank you for your tremendous work on this site. When you finish in a few years, I hope you will consider giving a similar treatment to Macbeth.

Siskoid said...

Years?! Oh Lord, I've been doing this since 2009, haven't I? Talk about time being out of joint.

MacBeth was always a difficult play for me. I don't know that it would be my first choice for a follow-up, but it's definitely worthy.