Sunday, October 27, 2013 Hamlet's Letter - Branagh '96

From all accounts, the production got lucky one day when, after spending the whole shoot applying fake snow, a blizzard started up. Wanting to shoot something right away to get that production value, Branagh grabbed Nick Farrell at the lunch wagon and had him do the one scene that doesn't require remembering very many lines (since you can essentially read them). This was matched to an equally snowy establishing shot, which speaks to time having gone by and a less and less hospitable Denmark. Horatio reads the letter with a puzzled tone, with a hint of interrogation at the end of every line, in what feels very naturalistic. Interestingly, as soon as he reads the part about the sailors also bringing letters to the King, he moves away from them, unwilling to let them gossip about whatever his own letter might contain if interrogated by Claudius.

A culture of hyper-surveillance is also present in a short, silent sequent introduced between the moment Horatio hears about the letters and the one in which he receives them. On the way, he stops to open a peep hole into Ophelia's padded cell where she is evidently getting hosed with cold water (all the more cruel when we know the current weather report, and of course, water is her element). Though he leaves with a sad expression on his face, we cut back to Ophelia, who, once the orderly has left, takes a key out of her mouth.
Evidently, she's been hosed for having attacked some guard or maid. The scene is necessary in this version to show how she escaped her cell, free to go out and commit suicide. Branagh smartly inserts a linking scene into what is one of Shakespeare's own necessary linking scenes.

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