Shakespeare is undoubtedly one of the most well regarded play writers ever, and it is not surprising that three of the Best Picture winners were either written by him or inspired by his work or life: we have already looked at ‘Shakespeare in Love’, and we have ‘West Side Story’ still to come.
Laurence Olivier directed and stared in this Oscar winner, and although is a shortened version of the original play it’s still a lengthy film. Each time a Shakespeare play is developed the take is slightly different, and Olivier goes for the dark version. There is no humour to be found here whatsoever.
For those not familiar with the Shakespearian masterpiece it is a dark medieval Danish tale. The brother of the King, murders his brother with the help of the king’s wife. The king’s son Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his father who reveals how he was killed. Hamlet seeks revenge by haunting his uncle, the murderer and the new king.
This film is Laurence Olivier’s film: a chance for him to show his worth and show his prowess. ‘Hamlet’ is to Olivier what ‘Dances with Wolves’ was to Kevin Costner and ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ was to Gene Kelly.
Olivier’s performance is undoubtedly great. I don’t imagine that there are many actors who could master the part of ‘Hamlet’ and then also direct the film and make this heavy piece of work accessible and watchable.
Having said that, I view ‘Hamlet’ in the same way that I view ‘A Man for All Seasons’. I appreciate that a lot of thought and attention went into this film but I am not entertained by this film at all, and in my mind the best films should combine entertainment with art. There is art by the bucketful here, but the entertainment factor often gets lots behind Oliver’s lengthy monologues. I’m not blaming Olivier for this and I respect the decision to shorten rather than modify the text, but I’m not sure that ‘Hamlet’ is the easiest of Shakespeare’s plays to make into a film, and I’m not sure that the humourless version of ‘Hamlet’ is the most watchable version.
In favour of ‘Hamlet’ I did like how the film was shot. Maybe it’s a Scandinavian trait, but the film reminded by of Ingmar Bergman films with the dark shadows and unbroken camera shots, and this high level of art makes the film very attractive at times.
In short, I have no qualms in admitting that this film is of an exceedingly high quality technically, but it’s not the type of film that I personally could enjoy watching over and over again.