Film and Food

Movies reviews with matching food – eat, watch, enjoy

Best Picture – Hamlet (1948)

Starring Laurence Olivier, Basil Sydney & Eileen Herlie

Rating 8/10

Dark, dark Hamlet. Sad little Denmark. Ghosts, murder and suicide. A light little movie really. “To be or not to be”, I guess, in the end the question was answered.

Shakespeare must have been one twisted fella; the stories he came up with! But we’re not here to talk about Shakespeare as such, but Olivier and this here film. I think we all know the story, or at least we should. It is Denmark, the king has been murdered by his brother who has then shacked up with the Queen. Hamlet is horrified and then driven mad by his father’s ghosts who tells him he was murdered and by whom. A play, death, suicide and more death follows finally ending with the entire royal family sent to their grave. Not a feel good story at all.

Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet intensifies this already morbid story. In his heyday Olivier was a superstar. Not only did he star in Hamlet but he directed, produced and wrote the screenplay. This film was his baby which is probably why he gave himself the main role. To me Hamlet is young and, sorry laurry, Olivier just seemed to old for the job. He looked like a man in boys clothing. And his mother (Eileen Herlie) looked like she was the same age as him. A bit strange really especially when they share a prolonged lip to lip kiss. Icky.

This film digs into the filth and darkness of family life. Many spooky skeletons in this family!! Olivier uses black and white film to create a dark, seedy and spooky atmosphere. It is most Hitchcockian! The ghost of King Hamlet is very scary, those hollow eyes and haunting voice (Olivier). The sets are very authentic, almost minimalist, creating a reality that draws you in. You know what’s going to happen, you can taste death in the air but you hope that Hamlet is not really mad, just grieving but alas and alack in the end there’s no doubt.

The performances are mostly well done! Olivier is spectacular. He does love a good sword fight. Shakespearean language can be difficult to understand if it is not performed by talented actors. In this case, the story was told by a bunch of megastar Shakespearean actors so the story and the emotions were relatable. There was a touch of the melodramatic, however, especially in the mother/son scene. I loved the play within a play scene, all silently performed while the King fumes in the background; highly effective.

I often avoid Shakespearean films, I’m ashamed to say. Perhaps because it was thrust upon us at school?! Or that they require your brain and heart to work simultaneously. Once in a while it feels good to be exposed to this genre. While they are not ‘feel good’ films or plays, they touch something universally true within you and confront issues that many of us like to bury deep within ourselves. Great job Olivier and incredible job Shakespeare; what a combination!!

Hamlet trivia:

  • Budget – £500,000
  • Eileen Herlie was 28 when she played mother to 41 year old Laurence Olivier! I knew it. I told you it looked wrong.
  • This was the first foreign film to win Best Picture
  • At first Olivier said that the use of black and white film was an artistic choice but in the end he admitted that he was in “…the middle of a furious row with Technicolor”
  • Olivier accidentally knocked out one of the stuntmen on the film when he jumped down on him.

Next time we are watching All the King’s Men starring Broderick Crawford and John Ireland. Don’t know who they are? Well track down the film, watch it and let us know what you thought! It’s great fun rediscovering incredible actors and stories.


One comment on “Best Picture – Hamlet (1948)

  1. Pingback: 1983 Oscar Winners | Guide to be a winner

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