Best Picture Reviews: Hamlet

Unknown I can safely say I know a thing or two about Shakespeare. We’re studying Romeo & Juliet in school, and after watching a certain part of the 1968 film, we talk a bit about what the scene means and what Shakespeare is trying to get across. And to the school’s credit, that probably is the best way to introduce young children to Shakespeare. It’s basically guaranteed that the first time someone experiences a Shakespeare play, would they haveth the faintest clue what’s going oneth. That being said, I don’t really know how to judge Hamlet, but I’ll try my best.

Even though I’m sure everyone knows it, I’ll give you the story. Hamlet (Laurence Olivier) is the prince of Denmark. After seeing an apparition of his dead father, he learns that his uncle King Claudius (Basil Sydney) is the murderer. Now, Hamlet is off to stop the mad king, all the while trying to refrain from becoming mad himself.

Before the film began, I knew very little about the story of Hamlet. At the very least, it was just The Lion King with humans and a darker ending. But sometimes I have found the plots of some of the other Best Picture winners hard to follow, and this was the most convoluted of all. Because the dialogue was so darn complicated to figure out, the most I could gather was ‘Hamlet is sad in this scene’. It does get tricky to identify with characters if you can’t work out what’s being said. And before you send your hate mail, let me clarify that I am NOT insulting Shakespeare. I’m just saying that the way he spoke was simply due to the fact that everyone spoke like that, not that it was part of his writing style. And yet, even modernized versions like Romeo + Juliet have the original dialogue, instead of a version that newcomers would actually get.

And yet, for all that, the film itself doesn’t do anything wrong. The Oscar winning art direction and costume design are indeed worthy, and Olivier’s performance is actually pretty good. I’m aware that the film was disliked for glossing over scenes from the play, and even though I barely know anything about the play, there is one scene in particular that I feel is too rushed. I’ll admit that once I sat down and tried to enjoy it, I liked it a bit better. And I feel that this is one of those films that is better than I give it credit for, but I guess I wasn’t in the mood for a tragedy that I could barely understand.

****

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