Laurence Olivier is regarded as cinema's premiere Shakespeare guru, and this reverence is well-earned; in such films as "Henry V," Richard III" and the Oscar-winning "Hamlet," he presented the Bard's works with proper respect and amazing consistence. Yet as much as Olivier deserves to be admired, I've always felt that it is actually Kenneth Branagh who has given us the greatest Shakespeare films. In his directorial debut "Henry V" and 1993's "Much Ado About Nothing," he presented audiences with faithful, impeccably produced adaptations that proved this kind of film need not be difficult and dreary, but can in fact be filled with life and (gasp!) accessible to most viewers.
But Branagh's crown jewel is 1996's "Hamlet," which was an obvious labor of love for the filmmaker - he not only directed it and adapted the screenplay, but he also stars as the melancholy prince who is driven to the point of madness while pursuing revenge for the murder of his father. After years of not-so-patient waiting on my part, it is finally being released on DVD this week. Even if you're not usually into this sort of thing, Branagh just might make a convert out of you by exposing the more playful side of Shakespeare many people aren't familiar with.