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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.
In the opening scene of Hamlet, Laurence Olivier describes the play in a voice-over as "the tragedy of a man who couldn't make up his mind". But Olivier's screen adaptation is considerably more thoughtful and complex than this thesis would suggest. The contradictions and ambiguities of the title character, who prowls cavernous sets filled with vast, ancient corridors and winding staircases, emerge as if from a dream. The plethora of tracking shots--precise enough to impress Stanley Kubrick--encircle Olivier and his tightly constructed geometry of demise. Drawing on his experience playing the Prince on stage at Elsinore in 1937, the legendary thesp provides the film with the patina of greatness and shows how the constitution of the formerly cheerful Prince weakens increasingly under the burden of his own thoughts and inability to accept his mother's o'er-hasty marriage to uncle Claudius (Basil Sydney). Indeed, if emotions could possess ghosts, Olivier's Hamlet shows how they would manifest themselves. There is even a dollop of Freud, suggesting that Queen Gertrude (Eileen Herlie) has perhaps loved her offspring too closely--thus providing the fuel for Hamlet's actions. As Ophelia, Jeans Simmons captures the character's early spirit better than her gradual disintegration (Helena Bonham Carter fares better in Franco Zeffirelli's fine 1990 remake). Purists may bemoan the loss of Fortinbras, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but these choices allow Olivier to focus more squarely on Hamlet's plight. His monologues, many held in secret enclaves, glow with the dramatic markedness of a Dostoevski novel, with all of the master's irony, allusions and witticisms in place. The winner of four Oscars (Best Picture, Actor, Art Direction, and Costumes), this is a Hamlet for the ages. The rest is silence. --Kevin Mulhall --This text refers to the DVD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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 !
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.
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!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
great Shakespeare great Laurence Olivier the version that set the bar very high for allcomersPublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
brought this for daughters alevel course but I have watched it now to was very goodPublished 7 months ago by fluffysocks
Olivier's Hamlet, though inevitably somewhat cut in length, remains one of the great Hamlets, and the black and white photography, with Roger Furse's superb, "once upon a... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Mr. R. J. L. Payne