Based on one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays, 1948’s Hamlet was Directed by and starred Laurence Olivier. The film became somewhat of a Marmite film, winning four Oscars including Best Picture but being criticized by some for leaving out vital aspects and characters from Shakespeare’s text. I had never seen a production of Hamlet until today but despite being forced to read Shakespeare at school in the most uninspiring ways possible, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the several plays I’ve seen as an adult. I am in no way an expert on the bard but what I’ve seen, I’ve loved. It’s with a heavy heart then that I have to report that I did not enjoy Olivier’s interpretation of Hamlet and found it to be one of the dullest movie watching experiences of my year so far.
I’d class Hamlet as a good film which I did not enjoy, much as The Expendables is a bad film which I did enjoy. One of the difficulties when one is watching a Shakespeare play or film is the language barrier. Written in four hundred year old English, the words and phrases are very different to my modern mother tongue and it can be difficult to extract the meaning from the text. I’ve never really struggled before with the likes of Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Coriolanus and Much Ado About Nothing but here much of the language washed over me. I think this was because of two things. Firstly I wasn’t interested and secondly the actor’s voices reverberated around the sound stage causing echoes which bumped into the following words.
Without wanting to be too downcast there were a few things that I liked about the production. I enjoyed the cinematography and especially the more dreamlike scenes such as when King Hamlet’s ghost appears. The mist, castle and shadow gave the impression of German Expressionism and the scene itself was very moving. Olivier’s descent into madness and faux madness was also great to watch and his performance on the whole was fantastic. The play within a play was excellent and the finale also bought my attention back to the screen after half an hour of wondering whether I should finish the film or have a nap.
On the negative side I just wasn’t able to get into the story. Although I’d never read or seen the play before, because of its fame I was aware of the major plot points so there was little to surprise me. I hate to be one of those people who were bored by Shakespeare but I was. I found it very difficult for the film to grab my attention and I zoned in and out of the story, finding myself transfixed and times and at other times realising five minutes had gone past and I’d been looking at my DVDs thinking about how I should best categorise them. Alphabetically? TV then film? By year maybe? This shows how little I was interested in the film.
In recent weeks I’ve seen two of the five films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars in 1948 and I wasn’t particularly blown away by either of them. Of the two though, I preferred The Red Shoes as although I was bored by it, at least it was beautiful to look at. Overall I was really disappointed by Hamlet but I’m unsure if I dislike the film or the play. I need to see a stage production to be sure but I just wasn’t able to get on board with the film despite some great performances by Olivier and Jean Simmons.