“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
He concedes, “Hamlet isn’t without merits, of course — not with Olivier himself in the lead.” But he argues that “Olivier’s direction isn’t imaginative, he pretty much ignores the other actors, his visuals have little thematic relevance (it isn’t enough just to move the camera), and much of the production looks no better than a kinescope of some fifties American television drama.” Ouch! I disagree with each of these points. Olivier’s direction and visuals (aided by DP Desmond Dickinson) are highly atmospheric and innovative throughout:
… and the supporting actors all do a fine job:
Numerous scenes are quite haunting, including Hamlet seeing his father’s ghost:
… and the discovery of the jester Yorick’s skull:
(Complaints have been made over Olivier casting a woman 11 years younger than him as his mother in the film, but this age difference isn’t all that noticeable; we simply believe Queen Gertrude was a young-ish mother, and Hamlet may have aged a bit prematurely due to stress.)
Peary further asserts that “until Hamlet’s swordfight with Laertes:
… the picture drags,” and he notes that while “Olivier deleted almost two hours from the play,” “it still seems too long.” I’ll agree the film feels long at points, but it’s hard to determine how Olivier could have made too many more cuts given how much flack he already received over removing the supporting characters of Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Fortinbras, as well as a couple of key soliloquies. We see just enough here to get the strong gist of the tragic storyline, and are treated to the cast’s expressive handling of the dialogue throughout.
Finally, Peary argues this film “doesn’t equal either [Olivier’s] earlier Henry V or his later Richard III.” I haven’t seen Richard III recently enough to comment, but I prefer this over Henry V, which is visually innovative but lack’s Hamlet’s narrative depth and inherent interest. This adaptation remains well worth a look.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments: