Today, most kids have some resentment and anger against divorced or lost parents and they just slam a few doors, blast their music or get something pierced. Hamlet is the story of a son filled anger and resentment against his mother and uncle after they kill his father, the King of Denmark. As if to piss on his grave, the uncle and mother marry, making the uncle king instead of rightful Hamlet. Sorry for those intellectuals to hate to have Hamlet watered down, but this is how I would summarize it to anyone without referencing The Lion King.
This adaptation is stays very true to Shakespeare, the setting and costumes are beautiful. The dialogue is fudged a bit in an attempt to bring in a wider audience, but unless you’ve really studied Hamlet, you can’t tell. That means, the one thing that can make this appealing to those unfamiliar or not a fan of Shakespeare is the acting, music and camerawork. All three are appealing, and this is one of the most enjoyable Shakespeare films I’ve seen.
Laurence Oliver won the Leading Actor Oscar for his astounding Hamlet, bringing great life into the immortal words in so many books. Hamlet is a sulky, wronged prince grieving for his father, perhaps more than he should to make up for his mother’s quick second marriage. When he speaks to his father’s ghost, Hamlet learns that he was murdered by his uncle. Hamlet promises to avenge his father’s death by killing his uncle in return. By the rules of Shakespearean tragedy, this can only bring more and more tragedy.
Oliver also directed and produced the film. He was the first to direct himself to an Oscar for acting, quite a feat. Nowadays, when people see directors staring in their own films, we think it’s egotistical, but in Oliver’s case, he starred mostly to save money. And who could argue, when for years he had been told that he recited Shakespeare as naturally as his own thoughts. Taking awards for actor, art direction, costume design and picture, Oliver proved his worth.
I would recommend Hamlet to anyone interested in Shakespeare or Oliver’s career. It’s entertaining enough, but if your idea of Shakespeare is Shakespeare in Love or the Romeo and Juliet from 1996, you’ll be in for a long grueling ride.
“To be, or not to be: that is the question.”