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Hamlet (1964) Poster

(I) (1964)

Trivia

Actor William Redfield, who appeared as Guildernstern in the John Gielgud-directed stage version of Richard Burton Hamlet (1964), published a memoir of the event, "Notes of an Actor", in 1967. He wrote that Gielgud had an encyclopedia knowledge of the play and could play any and all parts of it from memory for his cast as he directed the production, but he lacked the overall vision to bring the production together.
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Richard Burton's adoptive father, Philip Burton, had to intervene and help his son with his interpretation of the melancholy Dane, as well as help other cast members who were confused by director John Gielgud's direction (or lack of it). Philip had been estranged from Richard since the younger Burton left his wife and two daughters to hook up with Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra (1963). Though the two hadn't spoken since the breakup of Richard's marriage, Taylor called Philip and told him that Richard was struggling under Gielgud's direction. Four years earlier, Philip had stepped in to help director Moss Hart with the direction of the 1960 Broadway musical "Camelot" after Hart had had a heart-attack. Father and son were reconciled, and under Philip's tutelage, Richard Burton ultimately presented a Hamlet that was more of the old Jacobian "Revenger" type (known colloquially as "Belleforest" after an adulterated version of the play dating from the 18th Century) that was the antithesis of the Gielgud-Laurence Olivier German Romantic conception of Hamlet that had dominated the English-speaking stage in the 20th century. (In addition to fusing Freud with the Bard, Olivier did add Revenger flourishes to his Hamlet, though, by making the character somewhat of a swashbuckler. However, Belleforest-style Hamlets, such as the one presented by Albert Finney at the National Theatre in 1975, were considered "old-fashioned" as they underplayed the psychology so dear to 20th Century audiences and were typically panned by critics.) Prior to his step-father's help, Richard Burton had found himself unable to convincingly play a Romantic Hamlet under Gielgud's direction. Ironically, as the long run of his Broadway Hamlet went on, a bored Burton would vary his Hamlet night by night according to how he felt. According to his own memoirs, Richard Burton might one night present the prince as a homosexual, while another night add German words to the text in order to see if anyone noticed. Some theatrical mavens who had returned to the theater to see the fiery Hamlet of the opening days of the production criticized Burton for his lack of discipline.
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Richard Burton asked John Gielgud to direct him in this production of Hamlet while they were filming Becket (1964) together.
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The film was scheduled to be shown in cinemas for a week and then all copies were to be destroyed. Two prints survived. One was consigned to the BFI archives in London. Another print was found later in Richard Burton's estate after his death, which his widow allowed to be distributed as a DVD.
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Director John Gielgud had, of course, played Hamlet years before on stage. Cast opposite him, as Ophelia, was Jessica Tandy, whose husband, Hume Cronyn plays Ophelia's father Polonius in this film.
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Eileen Herlie also played Gertrude in Laurence Olivier's Oscar-winning 1948 Hamlet (1948). Whereas she was 11 years younger than her "son" when Hamlet was played by Olivier, she was seven years older than Richard Burton.
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By the time this film was made, Frederick Young had replaced Robert Burr in the role of Bernardo.
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This film belonged to a genre of films that began in the mid 60s that were actually stage productions filmed much like a television show, but for theater distribution. These films also included the heralded The T.A.M.I. Show (1964) and "TNT" (1966) rock concerts as well as the theatrical 2nd version of Harlow (1965) starring Carol Lynley.
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