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 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.