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Review: 'Hamlet,' as postwar soap opera

Actor-turned-first-time-director Bruce Ramsay recasts "Hamlet" as a soap opera, setting Shakespeare's tragedy in post-World War II London instead of medieval Denmark, eschewing any mention of the play's encroaching war with Norway and compressing several months into one fateful night. The result is a focused, if at times melodramatic, take on the play's beating heart.

Ramsay also stars as the Prince of Denmark, although it's unclear whether his family is meant to be literal royalty or metaphorical aristocrats. Confusing matters more is the setting: a mansion oddly bare of furnishings and decoration, aside from some pink ribbons and a pile of presents from the wedding of Hamlet's mother, Gertrude (Gillian Barber), to Claudius (Peter Wingfield), the brother of her dead husband. 

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Or is it a hotel? For there's a number on the door of the room where the ghost of Hamlet's father (Russell Roberts) hangs out, in this version in corporeal form, waiting for his son to wreak revenge for his murder.

Ramsay makes some smart choices, opting only to mime the play-within-the-play that exposes his father's killer and employing striking camera angles to lend drama during his character's storied soliloquies. (The dialogue is abridged from the Bard's original text.) But overall, his interpretation of "Hamlet" lacks the creative juice that fueled, for example, Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing."

"Hamlet." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. At Arena Cinema, Hollywood. Also on VOD. 

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