Laurence Olivier's 1948 version of Hamlet sets the standard for film
version of the play about the Danish prince. Much as he did with Henry
V, Sir Laurence cuts some significant plot points and characters from
Shakespeare's play, but it is done to concentrate the focus of the film
on the brooding prince. He removes as much as 50% of Shakespeare's script.
Major characters, including Fortinbras, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
are excised altogether. Without Fortinbras he can dispense as well with
Voltemand and Cornelius. The recitation of the sack of Troy is deleted,
as is all of The Murder of Gonzago except the dumb show, that is to
say, the hackneyed theatrical tradition denigrated by Hamlet himself
but which the Players perform anyway.
are switched about, major speeches replaced by single lines, other speeches
reconstructed as a collage put together from different parts of the
play. The result is a sterling masterpiece, a beautifully functioning
art , all of whose components, acting, words, blocking, camerawork,
scenery and music are brilliantly combined. I for one am convinced that
Shakespeare would have approved.
no mistake about it, this is Sir Laurence's film all the way. He brings
an amazing breadth to character who disintegrates from a happy and sensitive
man into a tormented and lost soul. There are some other great performances
including Eileen Herlie who plays the Queen and is Sir Laurence's mother
in the film despite being thirteen years his junior, a young Jean Simmons
is luminous as Ophelia and Basil Sydney is effective as the villainous
Claudius. Horror film notables Peter Cushing and the now Christopher
Lee also appear as does Stanley Holloway. The film was a major success
and it helped earn Sir Laurence his only competitive Oscars in 1948
as Best Actor and as producer on the Best Picture award in addition
to two others for Best Art Direction (B&W) and Best Costume Design
(B&W). He is also the only Best Actor Oscar winner to direct himself
to the award.