Hamlet (1948)

LAURENCE OLIVIER

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBBB

United Kingdom1948.  Two Cities Films.  Based on the play by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design Carmen Dillon.  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Podcast: My Criterions.  

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 , 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.

The Criterion Collection:  #82

Academy Awards:  Best Picture; Best Actor (Laurence Olivier); Best Art Direction-BW; Best Costume Design-BW
Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Jean Simmons); Best Director (Laurence Olivier); Best Score of a Drama or Comedy Picture

Golden Globe AwardBest Actor (Laurence Olivier)

Venice Film Festival Awards: Golden Lion; Best Actress (Jean Simmons)

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