My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Number 36: Hamlet (Best Picture Ranking)

One of the biggest upset winners ever in this category, Hamlet is Laurence Olivier’s presentation of Shakespeare’s probably most famous drama – a story about murder, mistrust, insanity, jealousy and the end of an entire family.

The names Laurence Olivier and William Shakespeare almost seem to belong together – no other actor has left such a distinctive mark on the work of the world’s most famous poet and so it is only fitting that the only Shakespeare-adaptation to win the award for Best Picture was directed by Olivier and starred him in the title role as the melancholic Prince of Denmark. I have to admit that my knowledge about Hamlet is limited and that I haven’t seen any other production of the play nor did I ever read it – I know that Olivier cut out some prominent characters but I still feel that Olivier knows so much about the play, about its structure, about its content and all this knowledge turned this movie version into a fascinating character study.

The biggest challenge for an actor in a play by Shakespeare is to do justice to his language without forgetting that this language also serves the plot – so they have to find the right balance between highlighting the beauty of Shakespeare’s words while also creating believable characters. And it’s no surprise that the entire cast succeeded under the direction of Olivier. Olivier himself has no problems to lose himself in the part of Hamlet and his soft voice works in perfect harmony with the delicacy of the character. Olivier obviously enjoys himself immensely and might be a bit…too much sometimes but his long monologues, his facial work and his body movement still leave a lasting impression. Jean Simmons shines in the infamous part of Ophelia and her descend into madness is both heartbreaking and frightening to watch. Eileen Herlie, although 12 years younger than Olivier, gives a wonderful performance as Hamlet’s mother while Basil Sidney impresses with his portrayal of King Claudius.

The movie contains a wonderful dark and gloomy atmosphere – Olivier’s use of shadows and lights sets the whole tone for the story and finds a perfect way to accompany this dark and gloomy story. Olivier also directed Hamlet in a way that assured to the audience that, underneath all the poetic language, was actually a thrilling and modern plot that didn’t lose anything of its fascination. The thirst for revenge and Hamlet’s willingness to destroy everything and everyone for it is presented in a very affective way. Especially the scenes of the play with which Hamlet wants to confront the new King are done very thrillingly – the way the camera moves around the spectators, showing the back of the King’s head and all the others looking at him, is certainly outstanding.

Olivier found a perfect way to bring this story to the screen and present all the darkness and human imperfection with a gripping visual style while all the actors did more than justice to the complexities of their parts.


Louis Morgan said...

I had some problems with this film, such as a few of Olivier's directorial choices such as all the fog. I do not think some of those choices worked well enough but I still thought the film was fine. I do find it a little annoying that the academy gave him the award for Hamlet, since I feel that both Henry V, and especially Richard III were superior films.

Fritz said...

Well, I think it was timing...Henry V came right after the end of the war and I think the Academy prefered more inspirational movies or movies about modern times. And by 1956, the Academy still seemed to love Olivier the actor but didn't seem to care so much anymore about his movies...

dinasztie said...

I think this version of Hamlet is not really good.