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Laurence Olivier directs and stars in this adaptation of Shakespeare's famous tragedy. Hamlet (Olivier), Prince of Denmark, is still mourning over the death of his father and his mother Gertrude's (Eileen Herlie) subsequent remarriage to Hamlet's despised uncle, Claudius (Basil Sydney), who is now King. When his father's ghost appears to Hamlet and reveals that it was Claudius who murdered him, the young prince vows revenge. However, a fatal flaw in his character - hesitation - mars his efforts, resulting in murder, madness and treachery. The film won five Oscars, including Best Actor for Olivier (who was also nominated for Best Director) and Best Film.
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But the film didn’t strike me as truly exceptional. This could be in part because I saw it shortly after watching the David Tennant film, which is so human and naturalistic; the Olivier doesn’t really compete. It also has some touches of the mid-century acting style that seem a little over the top today. William Walton’s overwrought score seems ill-suited to the play to me. The soliloquies are delivered unexceptionably but unexceptionally. Jean Simmons (as Ophelia) is a good actress, but she’s made to look and act like a fairy princess here, and when she cries, as she does quite often, she sounds uncannily like a baby.
Having said that, the Polonius is great, and I liked the Ghost as well, especially the way his voice is treated. The sword-fighting looked good to me, though the exchange of rapiers is inauthentic. Overall, a solid but standard production.
One aspect of the play brought to full is the relationship between Hamlet and his mother… note the uncomfortably long kiss on the lips at the end of the unmanly grief segment of the play ! Eileen Herlie who plays Gertrude has a magnificent bust, true MILF material ! (interestingly she reprised the role in Burton’s (1964) broadway version).
I liked all the supporting actors however Olivier is superb, his finest filmed acting performance. His Hamlet is measured and nuanced and brilliantly crafted, many later versions of the film benefit by playing out the full text of the plays but the actors playing Hamlet often put on a manic fevered disposition which just does not seem right. Nice to see Anthony Quale (Marcellus) in a supporting part. Terence Morgan as Laertes has been criticised in some reviews, but I quite liked his straight forward approach. I wonder what the thought process was in having the outrageous buffoonery of Peter Cushing as Osric when other interesting parts of the full play have been cut back ? - is it to contrast a Hamlet is shown having an easy natural banter with a gravedigger but can not abide the flattering fools at court ?
Overall a classic that deserves a place upon any collection of Shakespeare play.
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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Dark, with somewhat unnecessarily over complicated camera work.