Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. United Kingdom, 1948. Two Cities Films. Based on the play by William Shakespeare. Cinematography by Desmond Dickinson. Produced by Reginald Beck. Music by William Walton. Production Design by Carmen Dillon. Costume Design by Elizabeth Hennings. Film Editing by Helga Cranston. Podcast: My Criterions. Academy Awards 1948. Golden Globe Awards 1948.
Moody, atmospheric adaptation of the Bard’s most popular tragedy, directed with noirish zeal by Laurence Olivier. He also plays the title role, the very confused Prince of Denmark who is thrust into emotional turmoil when his father’s sudden death is immediately followed by his mother’s marriage to his father’s brother. When the late king’s ghost visits Hamlet and informs him that he was murdered by his newly-crowned brother Claudius, our hero takes it upon himself to exact an elaborate revenge that ends up getting everyone involved in seriously mortal trouble. Much of the original four-hour play has been skimmed down to accommodate a more appropriate cinematic running time of two and a half hours (characters like Fortinbras, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are nowhere to be seen), but Olivier has pared it down extremely well without sacrificing the bulk of Shakespeare’s marvelous dialogue, all of which is performed enthusiastically by the fantastic cast. The film starts off a bit creaky, but once it gets going with its gothic-looking sets and energetic camera movements there’s no stopping it until the end. At the age of 40, Olivier was a bit too mature to be playing the lead (especially considering he cast Eileen Herlie, a woman thirteen years his junior, as his own mother), but performs with such vigour and breathtaking intelligence that it’s a minor point to be overlooked (aside from the fact that Herlie actually looks thirteen years his junior). A young Jean Simmons also appears as the unfortunate Ophelia.