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Tony Grist

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Two Hamlets [May. 23rd, 2007|09:36 am]
Tony Grist
Olivier's Hamlet (1948) v Tony Richardson's Hamlet (1969, starring Nicol Williamson)

There's only a gap of 21 years between the two films, but in the interim there's been a revolution in Shakespeare production.

It's all about text.  Olivier reverences the poetry. He and his cast take it so slow they make it sound fustian. The slow pace necessitates swingeing cuts. Richardson respects Shakespeare the playwright- and crams in as much of the text as he can. His cast go at their lines so fast you forget you're listening to Elizabethan English. They're naturalistic. They gabble. 

(But surely Shakespeare's actors must have taken it fast too. If you performed  the full text at Olivier's pace it would last four to five hours.)

Olivier is cinematic.  Richardson adopts a televisual style, shooting in close-up against  bare brick . 

Olivier is expressionist, Richardson is kitchen sink. Olivier's Hamlet is a renaissance warrior, Nicol Williamson's is a scruffy, squeaky-voiced student.  Olivier relishes the supernatural, giving us a terrific ghost and lashings of  popular Catholicism, Richardson hates all that- his ghost is a white light, he cuts Hamlet's soliliquy about killing Claudius at his prayers.

Olivier- by cutting and rearranging the text and through imaginative directorial touches- imposes meaning on the play (it's all about sex).  Richardson- using a fuller text and letting the actors do the work- respects its ambiguity.

[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2007-05-23 02:38 pm (UTC)
And in between there's the Russian version. I haven't seen any of these in thirty years, but I remember being very impressed by Smoktunovsky's Hamlet, and the fact that it was actually filmed at Elsinore, which seemed proper.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-23 05:16 pm (UTC)
I'm attracted by that. I also rather fancy the Kevin Kline version.
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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2007-05-24 09:48 am (UTC)
Oh! Now I totally wanna watch them back-to-back!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-24 10:35 am (UTC)
You'd be hard put to find two versions that were more different.
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