Apr 16, 2016

Hamlet












Hamlet is hands down my most favorite Shakespearian play. This is drama in every sense of the word - the plot, the characters, the fates of the characters - and the material guarantees a compelling film at the very least. This is only the second Shakespearian film I've seen from Olivier's, and while I didn't care that much for Henry V, I did still appreciate the creative elements that Olivier utilized for it. That creativity bleeds through into Hamlet as well, and the result is a misty, somewhat noirish and somewhat gothic interpretation of the tale.

I for one was not bothered by the seemingly superfluous tracking shots of stairs within the castle, nor was I bothered by the deviations from the play's original content. I think that Olivier's content cutting and slight changes in dialogue did make for a much more approachable Shakespearian film that I've typically encountered. So often people discuss how Shakespeare isn't in the Academy's wheelhouse - and yet there's something very watchable and very enjoyable about this version of Hamlet. It tells the story in a crisp, consumable manner, yet maintaining an air of "importance" if you will. And as the film's strength lies in its troupe of thespians, (I felt that each individual did a great job at fleshing out absorbing performances), I think this was why Hamlet managed a victory over its competition in 1948.

Going back to my first point that the source material essentially promises a capable film, I'm yet to see a film adaptation of Hamlet that I flat out didn't care for. So it's hard for me to gauge whether my positive reaction is rooted in Olivier's filmmaking or because I just like the play a lot. Regardless, what Olivier did do, at least compared to Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, was imbue his adaptation with a a more supernatural, eerie spin - tonally it's almost perfect in black and white, and I'm glad Olivier had gotten in a row with Technicolor at the time because I can't have imagined that the film would have packed as good of a punch in color as he had originally planned. Overall, a very solid picture.

9 comments:

  1. I, once again, admired this film more than liked it, which is what I experience in much of Olivier's work. I think it has atmosphere and some fine acting, especially by Jean Simmons and Olivier. She was a "find" at this time and she just got better and better. It's hard to understand her lack of lasting power because she was in several great films giving great performances.

    Olivier is effective in that "I really know how to recite Shakespeare's words" way, so I like the performance. I don't feel it, though. It's head, no heart ... my biggest complaint about Olivier.

    It's an interesting film, with adroit edits to the original text, but is not cinematic in any particular way and pales in comparison to "Treasure of the Sierra Madre". The Academy embraced "artistry" on this one, but I still think "Henry V" is a far better film, just in my opinion.

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    1. That's funny, I definitely didn't enjoy Henry V at all....I thought it was really, really boring. Well made, but so dull.

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    2. Interesting, though neither film is on my fav list. Just goes to show that film appreciation is personal.

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  2. I too love Hamlet and I think it's Shakespeare's best play, and I agree with you that this is a very good movie. I think Olivier did a terrific job as a director as the movie never feels stagey in the slightest and the whole movie has a fascinating and unique atmosphere that makes it such a compelling and dark experience. The cinematography is downright stunning in my opinion.

    What did you think of Jean Simmons?

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    1. I liked Simmons! She was pretty great, though I definitely recalled being very very impressed with Winslet when I first saw her Ophelia, and don't think that Simmons is up to snuff.

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    2. Winslet is great, but styles of acting had changed by then.

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  3. I really like this version. Excellent performances from Simmons (who looks a little like Vivien Leigh at times), and Olivier.

    I also find it amusing just how unenthused Ethel Barrymore was when Hamlet won Best Picture. She clearly did not like this version of the movie.

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    1. Agreed! I really enjoyed watching it. And I read about Barrymore's reaction as well - watching her face in the clip on YouTube is pretty funny stuff.

      And welcome to the blog!!

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  4. I just can't with Shakespearean language.
    Must be a language barrier thing. Always puts me off.

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