A truly peculiar adaptation of Shakespeare’s great tragedy, starring Denmark’s top actress of the time, Asta Nielsen.
Hamlet is a melancholy Dane indeed in this film from the classic age of silent drama in Germany. But the twist is that he is a she, a princess forced to masquerade as a prince in order to keep the continuity and harmony of the monarchy. Only her mother, Gertrude, knows the truth that her murderous stepfather, Polonius, Ophelia, and even the devoted Horatio do not.
This plot point aside, all of Shakespeare’s intended twists and turns are present – the murder of a king, the feigning of madness, the drowning of Ophelia, the duel between Hamlet and Laertes. Making Hamlet a woman just adds a extra frisson to an already well-known saga.
When Frances de La Tour played Hamlet on stage, she played him as a man, and so did Sarah Bernhardt – I believe that Nielsen’s portrayal of the princess living a half-life is unique, and while it doesn’t quite come off, it does make for an interesting take on this great play.