Hamlet; drama, UK, 1948; D: Laurence Olivier, S: Laurence Olivier, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Jean Simmons, Terence Morgan, Felix Aymler, Peter Cushing
In the Danish Kingdom, the young prince Hamlet is plagued by sadness because his father, the king, supposedly died when he was bitten by a snake, while Hamlet's uncle, Claudius, hastily crowned himself as the new king and married his brother's wife, queen Gertrude. When his friend Horatio tells him he had a vision of the dead king's ghost, Hamlet goes to the fortress next night and indeed sees his ghost, who tells him that he seeks revenge since Claudius poisoned him in order to obtain the crown. Slowly losing his reason, Hamlet stabs Ophelia's father Polonius and leaves for England. He returns for Ophelia's funeral and accepts a fencing duel set up by Claudius. Laertes stabs Hamlet with a poisoned sword, but Hamlet stabs him with the same sword and kills Claudiius, as well.
Laurence Olivier's second directorial achievement found the actor in his element, the world of Shakespeare, as he proved to really have the most of inspiration in it, achieving an excellent adaptation that set the standards for numerous other future adaptations of the writer's plays. "Hamlet" has been rightfully praized for numerous well directed sequences - especially memorable is the opening sequence where the three soldiers in the fortress see the apparition of the dead king's ghost emerging from the fog at night or the inventive decision to have Hamlet's long monologues presented as his thoughts, as to not have him speak aloud all the time - whereas Olivier is indeed brilliant in the leading role, conveying both Hamlet's fragile, torn state caused by the injustice of his uncle killing his father to get the crown and his mother, as well as his fall into mental madness. The famous "to be or not to be" monologue is impressive, but so are many far more impressive ones as well (Ophelia's: "Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be..."; Hamlet's "Oh cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right..."), whereas the whole film feels truly alive and energetic, and not just a stiff theatre imitation. If a few flaws have to be mentioned, then it is that some of Shakespeare's archaic words are not used anymore in modern English and thus feel slightly dated, whereas the third act is slightly anticlimactic and some have complained that Olivier cut certain parts out of the films (for instance, the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are omitted). However, these flaws are so insignificant that they cannot corrode the overall high impression of a very cultured and elevated film. This is rare: a movie adaptation that is the equivalent of the book or play it was based on.