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Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, returns home to find his father murdered by Claudius, Hamlet's uncle. Claudius usurps the throne of Denmark, and marries Hamlet's recently widowed mother. Hamlet is tormented, haunted, and increasingly unstable.
William Shakespeare's tale of tragedy of murder and revenge in the royal halls of medieval Denmark. Claudius, brother to the King, conniving with the Queen, poisons the monarch and seizes the throne, taking the widowed Gertrude for his bride. Hamlet, son of the murdered King, mournful of his father's death and mother's hasty marriage, is confronted by the ghost of the late King who reveals the manner of his murder. Seeking revenge, Hamlet recreates the monstrous deed in a play with the help of some traveling actors to torment the conscience of the evil Claudius. In a visit with his mother, Hamlet expresses his anger and disappointment concerning her swiftly untimed marriage. Thinking a concealed spy in his mother's chamber to be the lurking Claudius, he mistakenly kills the meddling counselor, Polonius, father of Ophelia and Laertes. Claudius, on the pretext that Hamlet will be endangered by his subjects for the murder of Polonius, sends the prince to England. Written by
So oft it chances in particular men / That through some vicious mole of nature in them, / By the o'ergrowth of some complexion / Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason, / Or by some habit grown too much; that these men - / Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect, / Their virtues else - be they as pure as grace, / Shall in the general censure take corruption / From that particular fault... This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.
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The titled melancholy Danish prince (Oscar-winner Laurence Olivier) seeks to avenge those involved with his father's death. It seems that Olivier's father (voiced by John Gielgud) still roams the Earth as a spirit that walks around aimlessly, unable to find Heaven or Hell (Purgatory for the most part). Gielgud makes it clear that his brother (Basil Sydney) was the culprit in his death and Olivier becomes enraged. The fact that Sydney has become king by marrying the titled character's mother (Eileen Herlie) just makes the tension build. Herlie and Olivier's relationship pushes the envelope hard on a typical mother-son bond (there are incestuous tones abound here). Oscar-nominee Jean Simmons appears to be Olivier's one true love, but after a terrible tragedy she falls down a path of mental anguish. It appears that the only logical conclusion for Shakespeare's famed character is to have that famous sword fight dual with Simmons' brother (Terence Morgan). Of course you know that not everything is the way it seems, right? "Hamlet" was a surprising success in 1948. Produced in Britain (and strictly a British project for all intensive purposes), the film became a runaway hit with most all audiences and critics (becoming the year's Best Picture Oscar winner). Shakespeare's plays have never really warranted excellence on the silver screen, but this adaptation (also by Olivier) is about as close as we have seen thus far. The movie runs nearly three hours and I was about to fall asleep after the first 60 minutes (the film is almost dragging to a crawl by that point), but after the set-up the movie soars very high. Lots of data that is somewhat confusing hogs up a little too much time when the pacing could have been much crisper. Olivier's spin on the timeless classic is truly uncanny nonetheless. His direction (he was Oscar-nominated in the category) and vision are something to behold. The production values are strong and I ended up enjoying the movie for what it is and what it ultimately wanted to be. Olivier became the first of only two people presently to direct himself to an Oscar victory (Roberto Benigni duplicated the feat with 1998's "Life Is Beautiful"). 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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