Hamlet is a 1948 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's famous tragedy of the same name. It stars and is directed by Laurence Olivier. The film was the first British film to win the Best Picture Oscar.
A great deal of the original play is cut or altered in the film, but the basic story remains the same. Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, and his father, the late King Hamlet, has died recently. The ghost of the deceased King comes to Hamlet, telling him that his brother, the new King Claudius, had killed him. Hamlet, at first refusing to believe this is true, decides to feign insanity to test Claudius, in hopes of eventually seeking revenge for his father's death.
Looking at all the previous Best Picture winners, Hamlet feels like a drastic change-up. That might be because the film is the first Best Picture winner (of many) to take place in a centuries ago time period. On top of that, there are some supernatural/fantasy elements at work, mainly with the presence of a ghost. Future winners give evidence to the fact that the Academy is easily baited by period films. But it's not right to immediately claim that all such period piece winners are unworthy of the ultimate Oscar. Hamlet was a deserving winner for its time, with its strengths in being well-acted and mildly exciting.
- Laurence Olivier. Wherever you might look, Olivier has his name all over this film. Despite criticisms from the most avid of Shakespeare scholars, Olivier commands the screen as Hamlet, speaking the Shakespeare language with natural ease. His Best Actor award was certainly well-deserved.
- The ghost. I was looking forward to seeing how the ghost of Hamlet's father would be portrayed, given the lack of special effects back then. The ghost appears as a knight in armor, being cloaked by eerie fog. Unfortunately, what is disappointing is his voice sounds as if he is talking from an astronaut's space suit, sounding muffled and hardly audible. The ghost's explanation of his death isn't communicated to us very effectively as a result.
- The uneven pace. At times, Hamlet is exciting and passionate. But other times, it seems gentle and stagnant. Hamlet's attempt to kill a praying Claudius is riveting, but is followed later by a lengthy scene of Ophelia walking slowly through the halls, singing and talking to herself. It leaves us frustrated, going back and forth between enthralled and semi-bored.
Overall, Olivier's Hamlet is a worthwhile viewing with some praiseworthy acting and some modest excitement. Most of the original play was cut, but this 2 and a half hour film version is a reasonable substitute for the full on-stage experience.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: