William Shakespeare's tale of tragedy of murder and revenge in the royal halls of medieval Denmark. Claudius, brother to the King, conniving with the Queen, poisons the monarch and seizes the throne, taking the widowed Gertrude for his bride. Hamlet, son of the murdered King, mournful of his father's death and mother's hasty marriage, is confronted by the ghost of the late King who reveals the manner of his murder. Seeking revenge, Hamlet recreates the monstrous deed in a play with the help of some traveling actors to torment the conscience of the evil Claudius. In a visit with his mother, Hamlet expresses his anger and disappointment concerning her swiftly untimed marriage. Thinking a concealed spy in his mother's chamber to be the lurking Claudius, he mistakenly kills the meddling counselor, Polonius, father of Ophelia and Laertes. Claudius, on the pretext that Hamlet will be endangered by his subjects for the murder of Polonius, sends the prince to England.Written by
So oft it chances in particular men / That through some vicious mole of nature in them, / By the o'ergrowth of some complexion / Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason, / Or by some habit grown too much; that these men - / Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect, / Their virtues else - be they as pure as grace, / Shall in the general censure take corruption / From that particular fault... This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.
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Opening credits prologue: SCENE - ELSINORE See more »
Any film based on Shakespeare is worth seeing because the scaffolding is so rich that even a failure is interesting. And in the case of Hamlets, we have several to compare. Here we have the celebrated Olivier Hamlet, much celebrated.
I see a few very strong elements with some blots, and I suppose these have both become amplified with the passage of 50 years.
First, the blots:
-- Every actor but Olivier is of lesser caliber. I suspect that some of this is what he had to work with, and some apparent clumsiness results from the then standard rendering of the Bard's works as speechifying.
-- The women, especially Ophelia are dreadful, absolutely dreadful -- Ophelia's only present because she screwed the boss.
-- The score was so heavy, so dated and so hard to ignore it almost made me turn away, regardless of the balancing strengths.
-- Hamlet's text presents problems. The best choice in my opinion is to keep it all as Branagh has. But the standard wisdom is that audiences won't sit through 4 hours, no matter how engaging. Then, the question is what to cut. One often keeps the well-known speeches and cuts into the plot about ideas. So here we lose Fortinbras, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, together with some rather lovely related language and notions. Too bad because there is a development in the logic of metaphor in the later, longer version of the play, and this is totally lost here.
-- Olivier insists on including the notion of Oedipus and Gertrude, absolutely not supported by the text, and only inferred if you don't understand that Hamlet's initial distress is because his succession has been interrupted (not that his access to his Mother has been interrupted).
-- Worse, Olivier not only believes Hamlet is a 'man that couldn't make up his mind' but tells us so at the beginning! Does he not get it? Does he not understand the complexities of reason? This is not a play about doubt, but about reasoning.
Now the gems:
-- Even though Olivier gets the character wrong, and has cut some good lines, he has a natural talent for living well in the language. Even though he's coming from the wrong place, and overly postures, his rendering of the lines comes from a rare genius. Worth experiencing, despite the surrounding distractions.
-- The costumes are too lush for my tastes, but they fit the set. And my, what a set it is. Except for the cheesy painted sky, this castle is pretty wonderful: lots of colonnaded corridors, mezzanines, stairs, aligned archways. Olivier may be trying to top archrival Orson Wells, but I think he has done very well in using the building to frame the action in a way that is fully cinematic, transcending the stage. The only effect that jarred was the thrice-done long pullback when Claudius conspires with Laertes.
--The film is in Black and White. Olivier had no choice of course, but it is a happy accident. Allows the photography to be more artistic, better lit, more abstract, just as the mood of the play would have it.
Bottom line: This is worth seeing to discuss, but the Branagh version is more true and has many fewer distracting blots.
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