On one hand, you have the drab, mundane, Franco Ziffirelli production of "Hamlet", and on the other, you have the magnificently constructed Kenneth Branagh production.
The settings and costumes of the flicks contrast greatly. The Franco Ziffirelli version features the usual tunics, swords, and other medieval, attire and accessories. The setting is in a castle made of stone-work; typical. Then you have the 19th-century style clothes of Kenneth Branagh's work. The clothes seem to be modeled after 19th-century, German military uniforms, which adds a bit of visual flare. Instead of the austere stone-masoned castle, a grand palace is used for the setting, which is the Blenheim Palace in England. Branagh certainly outdoes Zeffirelli in visual appeal.
The characters are portrayed in a different style, by the two directors. The characters in Ziffirelli's film are not that great. The acting in that version, is flat; as if, they are just rambling the lines out of the book, like many English classes in the world.
No real emotion; Mel Brooks would have done a better job, than Mel Gibson. Gertrude is too giddy in this film, it border lines on ridiculous. However, Branagh flexes his theatrical genius, once again. Instead of presenting a flat, mournful Hamlet; he presents a vibrant, yet, slightly mournful Hamlet. The scene that pans from the wedding reception to the black-clad, lone, figure of Hamlet is brilliant work portraying the solitude of the main character. All of the characters, in fact, are lively in this film. Branagh's depiction of the drunken Claudius running through the halls, as opposed to the stark festival of Zeffirelli's piece, shows who is better at character representation.
Finally, the atmosphere of the two versions are antipodes of each other. Zeffirelli painfully maintains a bleak and dreary atmosphere with no emotion...