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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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For years I've considered the classical soviet screen-version of Hamlet directed by Kozintsev (1964) as the best adaptation of the play. I still think it's a masterpiece, however now it fills the second place in my preferences and the first one belongs to Lord Laurence Olivier. To begin with, I was astonished to find out that scenery, costumes and make-up in Kozintsev's film clearly resemble those from Olivier's version. No doubts, our producer knew and appreciated earlier English movie and deliberately copied the settings. Well, I don't blame him: he used it successfully, but the lack of originality is somehow disappointing. The scenery is really wonderful: cold, gloomy, dark, gothic, haunting and even more impressive for being black-and-white. And then LORD LAURENCE OLIVIER IS THE BEST SHAKESPEAREAN ACTOR EVER. No one else can make the 16th century Bard's text sound modern, natural, alive, expressive, exciting, clear and full of hidden before meaning. Indeed, soviet actors pronounce the text fantastically well, but in Russian: I mean in translation by talented Russian poet Pasternak. And recently I've become interested in reading and watching Shakespeare in original. And here Olivier is an unparalleled performer. He portraits his hero wonderfully. His Hamlet is dignified and noble, reserved and mistrustful, emotional and ruthless (when he knows it is justified), and deeply frustrated (for he is disappointed in everyone except the foreigner Horatio). He is willing to act and yet waits to understand what's happening better. However events take an unexpected course and lead to the final tragedy. At the beginning Hamlet is called `a man who couldn't make up his mind'. Well, I would choose other words: `a man who changed his mind too often', but it wasn't his fault so were circumstances. And Olivier presents these changes very vividly and truthfully. He makes `To be or not to be' an unusually powerful scene showing Hamlet just a man who sees so much evil all around that he nearly commits suicide. He is stopped only by sudden understanding that death is unremediable and too frightening natural thought for any sensible man, brave as he is. Such simple variant pleases me better than more sophisticated ones. Somebody may disagree with Olivier's conception of the character but everyone has to admit that while Larry acts he creates complete, convincing, living image of his hero (and very sympathetic, by the way). I also would like to mention Jean Simmons. She seems to be severely misjudged by most reviewers. Simmons is an excellent Ophelia a simple, naive young girl, merely a child, affectionate, light-hearted, playful, flirting and exceptionally sensitive. An absolutely charming scene is that of Laertes' departure. Polonius makes his solemn speech and Ophelia all the time mischievously distracts attention of her brother. I like all Olivier's films for such amusing trifles. Gertrude is well chosen too, quite believable. Eileen Herlie clear shows that at the end Gertrude understands her husband's wicked game and takes the poison consciously. However, Claudius is not impressive enough, to my mind. To see a perfect thrilling Shakespearean villain you have to watch Kozintsev's film.
Of course the play is noticeably cut. I confess I miss Hamlet's passionate soliloquy `Is not this monstrous that this player here ', and also Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (they are important, for Hamlet faces the treachery of friends in their part). On the other hand more complete versions are rather overlong. I am not sure that Branagh's four hours movie gains anything from using the full text. This film is dynamic and worth seeing not only for the sake of Lord Laurence's outstanding performance, but because it is extraordinary interesting version of the familiar play.
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