“This rendering of Ms. Bernhardt offers a financially profligate legend who will never stop needing the approval and over-involvement of men in her life, be it her adult son Maurice (Luigi Sottile), her fellow actors or the transactional playwrights who trade art for sexual and emotional inspiration. She is in charge only in the pedantic, street-wise vein of a narcotics dealer.
Bernhardt had money, sexual magnetism and position – products judiciously withheld to advantage throughout her long career. However, minutes into Bernhardt/Hamlet it’s made clear that the now 55-year-old actress is no longer flush with any of these resources. She is, in fact, desperate. The publicly and critically shocking decision to dive headlong into Shakespeare’s alpha male tragedy is born, not of inspiration, but of a necessity to generate cash and headlines. Any theater history student knows this effort produced gossip, but certainly not riches or reborn critical acclaim. It was shortly after this experience that Ms. Bernhardt turned to film for salvation.
The material’s unacknowledged structural incongruity persists for over two and a half hours and is broken up only by long passages of dialogue from the work of male masters like Mr. Shakespeare and Mr. Rostand (John Tufts). As a critic and committed feminist, I found my patience routinely tested by these lengthy diversions from what should be the characters’ pursuit of their own deliberated truths – most notably, Ms. Bernhardt’s. Her relationship with Mr. Rostand as written is pathetic and depressing for both parties, only eclipsed by an utterly misguided collaborative attempt to remove the “poetry” from Shakespeare. Because somehow that places an actress on more equal gender footing? The idea is never adequately explained.”