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57
4.5 out of 5 stars
Hamlet [DVD]
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2002
Olivier's film of Hamlet is not perfect, but it is unlikely to be excelled. No present-day director, of sufficient intellect or skill to match it, would want to try; and there is no living English-speaking actor with the physical presence, voice or mastery of Shakespeare's language to fill the role. Any apparently negative judgements here are made in the context of a standard so far unequalled. There is no point in discussing Olivier's cuts or re-arrangements of the text; his film is an entertainment, not an academic exercise, and anyone who is not a moron will be handsomely entertained. The pace is somewhat sedate, until the cathartic final bloodbath, but the ghost is gripping and effective enough from the start to engage the viewer with the action. There is a strongly Victorian, neo-Gothic feel to the magnificent staging and rich costumes, reinforced by deliberate emulation of Millais' 1852 painting of the drowning Ophelia. The costumes benefit from the black and white photography, avoiding the technicolour garishness which obtrudes in Olivier's later Richard III. Modern viewers may think Hamlet should show a rather more feverish and agitated distraction, but this is not a serious fault. What, then, are the major flaws? First, the introduction ("this is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind"), which is completely unnecessary, off-putting, and almost silly. It should be removed. Second, although the acting of the supporting players (especially Eileen Herlie, and including Jean Simmons, whose touchingly fragile Ophelia has sometimes been disparaged) is generally excellent, Terence Morgan as Laertes is weak and mechanical, particularly in the early scenes. He cuts a spirited figure in the duel, but is otherwise unconvincing. Perhaps his woodenness is partly intentional, since he is suspected of being but "the painting of a sorrow, a face without a heart". Occasionally there is a sense that one or two other actors are also merely reciting the lines, without living them. The third, and most surprising failing, however, is in Olivier's delivery of "to be or not to be", the most famous soliloquy in English literature. This speech is a distillation of Hamlet's three preoccupations: the riddle of life and death, the legitimacy of revenge, and his perplexed sense of sexual frustration and disgust, which underpins the entire play. By treating the passage exclusively as a meditation on suicide, Olivier misses the opportunity of consolidating his fully justified Freudian interpretation of the drama, and virtually throws it away, symbolically dropping his bodkin into the troubled sea. But in spite of these criticisms I can't see any other actor/director bringing a fraction of the concentrated intelligence and stagecraft displayed in this production to the modern screen.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 24 December 2007
Having just finished reading the play,I was keen to view this classic 1948 film of "Hamlet" which stars Laurence Olivier as the tragic Danish prince. The film is fairly faithful to the play and it's acting and direction are both first rate. I thought that everything about this film seemed to convey Shakespeare's vision of the play perfectly ,especially the gothic citadel of Elsinore and it's rich tableau of characters .The plot of "Hamlet" is well known; Hamlet succumbs to madness after the ghost of his father asks him to avenge his murder by his brother (Hamlet's uncle) ,the new king. This madness appears to be the result of Hamlet's indecision and inaction in response to the ghost's request. Should he plot bloody revenge on his father's killer as the ghost demands ,or should he do nothing ? To be,or not to be. Should he give in to evil or not ? Sadly Hamlet yields to the bloody appeals of the ghost and a series of untimely deaths bring this dramatic story to it's conclusion. This film version of "Hamlet" is excellent and it still makes for captivating viewing.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 2013
I thought that the picture and sound quality was a big improvement on the old dvd versions.the picture is in its original aspect and there are optional english subtitles.only a trailer and some stills as extras and no commentary track but the film is the important thing and it has nice clear audio and improved picture.at just under 7 quid it's a must have for fans of Laurence Olivier.one slight annoyance,there is a two minute ad for itv releases at the start of the blu-ray which cannot be skipped but thankfully can be fast forwarded through to get to the disc menu
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 5 February 2006
A play by William Shakespeare. The story is of the decision and indecision of the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet, he is informed of an evil deed "Murder most foul" by the ghost of his father. The perpetrators are his uncle and mother who remarry before the funeral meats are cold. How will Hamlet cope and are there further plots against him?

Just as when you think about the Ten Commandments, you think of Charlton Heston as Moses in "The Ten Commandments" (1956). Everyone knows that Hamlet looks like Laurence Olivier. There are longer and flashier versions out now, many quite good however this is the one that will always come to mind. I will not attempt to interpret the meaning behind the story however most of the acting and all of the words are quite clear. If you are afraid of misinterpreting the play, take a course on it. Otherwise this will play stands on its own merit and you will be fascinated.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
This was the first film I was taken to see, at the age of 5. I loved it then, and love it now.
Filmed in Denmark, it's a stylish work of art. The sets and cinematography are fabulous, and it boasts a superb score by Sir William Walton.
The magnificent Olivier gives us the most poetic and melancholy Hamlet on film...the way he uses his eyes in this performance is extraordinary, and very moving. Jean Simmons is a delicate and beautiful Ophelia, I like Eileen Hurlie's Gertrude, and Norman Woodland's graceful Horatio is outstanding.
Though the Zeffirelli/Gibson version is my favourite, and Branagh's ever so long uncut version stunning, this one shouldn't be missed...it's the classic of classics...riveting even for a child of 5 !
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2003
Perhaps the most impressive of Olivier's Shakespeare films. An utterly individual (and disturbing) atmosphere pervades the entire production. Every aspect seems integrated to a single vision and contributes to an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The brooding sets, William Walton's melancholy music, the black and white film stock and the singularly talented cast coalesce to produce a genuine and characterful period piece.
Of course this is not the only way to do Hamlet. Of course there are cuts and adjustments. But Olivier's vision is effective and his portrayal of the great role is indispensable. Felix Aylmer is a delightfully quirky Polonius and Jean Simmons looks wonderful. The sound and picture quality on DVD is remarkably good for a film made in 1949.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 June 2013
I brought this DVD of Laurence Olivier's Hamlet as I am a fan of Olivier and also a Shakespeare buff. I have Olivier's Hamlet on video which I brought some years ago but the quality is not very good. I decided to purchase the DVD from Amazon. The quality of the DVD is much better and so is the sound. I watched the DVD recently and I still admire Olivier's acting as the moody Dane he actually produced and directed as well as taking the leading role. I also have his Richard 111 and Henry V on DVD which I also brought from Amazon a few years ago. To my mind nobody in the film business has ever done Shakespeare for the screen better Olivier brought Shakespeare to the masses with his Henry V and I think he was one of the greatest actors ever in my opinion.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 August 2011
I saw this adoption of Hamlet a few years ago with subtitles on German TV and was already fascinated at that time.
I'm no Shakespeare expert. In Germany, you have to read Hamlet at school and that is it.

I was watching 2 hours and 47 minutes this film without looking to a clock or thinking about a break (I'm a smoker!), that means this film must be good.

Regarding the Branagh comments here about Hamlet; I noticed the same strange behaviour while reading the "Wallander" (Swedish) comments. Obviously, Branagh fans seem to be a bit ignorant. I mean, who does really compare 2 films, made in 2 completely different time periods? Sometimes, I get the impression that the BBC PR department fill out this comments.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 2011
Five stars;- the reviewers on the site of the English version of Olivier's Hamlet can attest to why this is so far better than I.
What I am glad to write here is that this is exactly the same version, but with removable French sub-titles, at about one third of the cost!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 November 2013
The definitive film version of Shakespeare's (probably) best known tragedy. Very well staged by director Lawewnce Olivier with impeccable acting , partcularly by Larry himself , Basil sydney & a young Jean Simmons , and easily accessable for those not comfortable with the language. Great looking black and white movie as well, enhanced by the transfer to Bluray. Still a little scratchy in places but , hey, this is a 65 year old film!
Could have done with a few extras but can't really argue for the price , Olivier's earlier Henry V looks better for being in colour , but overall a good job by ITV Studios..
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