For Reel


Hamlet (1948)
August 13, 2017, 1:14 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Laurence Olivier
3.5 Stars
HamletAlthough Laurence Olivier is often regarded as having brought Shakespeare’s works to the screen in a manner that does justice to the text, his Hamlet oddly sees him belligerently pitted against the bard’s most studied work. If it doesn’t discredit the material, it has its liberties with it. In casting himself as the eponymous heir, Olvier essentially rewrought the character before even muttering a line—at forty, he is twice the age of the character in the text. As a result, Olivier quiets down on Hamlet’s desperation and fear and instead seems merely dour. The “to be or not to be” soliloquy is not delivered out of a place of terror, but plays as a woebegone fit of public melodrama. Similarly, the Oedipal interpretation Olivier brings to the material is interesting in the moment but really seems to mute the drama. If Hamlet is a drama of paranoia, fear, and is enlivened through the excruciating dragging out of the inevitable, Olivier plays it oddly cool. There are some exceptions—the Yorick scene shows Olivier find the humor in the scene’s inherent nihilism—but one pines for some of the vulnerability brought to King Lear forty years later. Despite the questions one might have regarding performance, however, the film looks spectacular, and succeeds as a sort of Wellesian imitation. Ophelia’s downfall is wonderfully imagined, from her glassy-eyed wandering through the impossibly open, bare halls, to her floating down the river and seeming to vanish into thin air. The haunting, poetic dramatization of the scenes and Jean Simmons’ performance (she completely steals the film) increase one’s understanding and appreciation of the character as written.

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