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13 February 1997 Edition

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Alas, poor Ken...

In the film The Greatest Story Ever Told John Wayne appeared as the centurion at the foot of the cross and got his fee for just being there and uttering the sentence ``Surely this was the Son of Gaawwd.'' It has gone down as the most ludicrous `cameo role' in cinema history. In his new version of Hamlet Kenneth Branagh has far surpassed it.

John Gielgud gets a `part' (quick grimace and swoon) but not in the play, not even in the play within the play, but in a flashback within the play within the play. Then there is the skull. Hamlet's famous ``Alas, poor Yorick'' speech is addressed to a skull with curiously familiar prominent teeth. We flash back in Hamlet's memory of the jester Yorick and it's... Ken Dodd. This is just after we've been asked to believe in Billy Crystal as one of the gravediggers.

In his ambition for a star-studded epic Branagh has produced an outrageously overdone and overlong film. Treating Shakespeare's work as Holy Writ, not a word is left out, so that you spend four solid hours in the cinema. And if the unedited text does not wear you out then the Dr Zhivagoesque gold-braided uniforms, snowy landscapes and palatial splendour will see you off.

Instead of keeping the staging sparse and letting the actors bring out all the subtleties and intricacies of Shakespeare's words, Branagh completely loses the run of himself. The small incestuous royal court of Elsinore in the dark middle ages becomes a glittering 19th century palace swarming with extras. None of this can make the difficult language more accessible. Where Branagh succeeded in bringing Shakespeare alive in Henry V he fails here.

The pity is that the central characters are played brilliantly by Branagh (Hamlet), Derek Jacobi (Claudius), Richard Briers (Polonius) Kate Winslet (Ophelia) and Michael Moloney (Laertes). (The exception is Julie Christie who is wooden as Gertrude.)

Branagh, the boy who rose from Belfast Billydom to London Luvviedom, has neglected Hamlet's advice to the players: ``Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance: that you o'erstep not the modesty of Nature...''


Harriet is a little girl who monitors her friends and neighbours' movements and actions and writes them into her secret notebook which is marked `PRIVATE'

Harriet is played in this action/comedy by 11 year old Michelle Trachtenberg. Her nanny and mentor - Golly - is played by Rosie O'Donnell. Both are extremely fond of each other. However, the time has come when Golly has to leave. Harriet's life is turned upside down. Her ambition in life to be a successful writer is thwarted.

Her classmates become aware of her secret writings, and when they decide to read its revealing contents, they take action against her. Even her best friends, Sport and Janie, take revenge.

Her ambition to be a writer is now in jeopardy. Her friends have turned against her. What is she to do?

I found the film well suited to its PG rating - it's aimed at an audience of 8-12 year olds. It can be boring at times and some things are predictable. However, overall it was enjoyable.

The film is based on the novel ``Harriet the Spy'' by Louise Fitzhugh which was awarded the New York Times ``Outstanding Book Award'' in 1964. Approximately 2.5 million copies of the book have been sold to date and making it into a film was clearly a labour of love for director Bronwen Hughes - she first read the book when she was 8 years old.

By Seamus Hazlett

If you were a fan of Fawlty Towers (I have to say I cringed rather than laughed through most episodes) or Monty Python (again, it missed me) then Fierce Creatures, the new comedy starring John Cleese, is probably for you. The movie features basically the same leading cast as appeared in A Fish Called Wanda. Cleese, accompanied by Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin, deliver what they believe to be a rather good comedy about a zoo under threat of extinction at the hands of its new owner, a ruthless corporate investor (Kline).

This story, though, while it has a few rare moments, is ultimately unoriginal and pretty unfunny. If most of the animals on show were tame rather than fierce, then so was the comedy. But if you refer back to my initial comment and actually liked either Fawlty Towers or Monty Python, you will probably disregard my opinion and go see Fierce Creatures anyway. On your heads be it. I pronounce it a lame duck and to hell with the begrudgers.

By Liam O Coileain

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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