Monday, 20 June 2011

Best Actor 1948: Laurence Olivier in Hamlet

Laurence Olivier won his only acting Oscar from his fourth acting nomination for portraying Hamlet the Prince of Denmark in Hamlet.

Hamlet is Olivier's second film of Shakespeare trilogy, I would say it is his weakest effort, as I view the other two as quite strong. I think it is a bit of a mixed film, with some moments of tedium, but still there are several very strong scenes.

It should be noted that Laurence Olivier actually portrays two roles in the film. In addition to Hamlet he also portrays the voice  of the ghost of Hamlet's father. His voice is darkly brooding, and haunting, and fits the part quite well. This portion of his performance unlikely got him any votes from the academy though. Olivier as Hamlet shows once again his command of the Shakespearean language. If you have read my other reviews of Olivier's Shakespearean performances you might find this repetitive, but it most certainly deserves repetition. Olivier just always shows that he knows the words by heart, and brings the words a natural life they desperately need.

The language of Shakespearean is only part of the challenge of Hamlet though, since Hamlet is a notoriously complex character. He is strange seeming noble in some ways, brash, aggressive, almost bipolar as well, his actions are diverse in the play, from his main drive for revenge, which he is never sure of to his cruel treatment of Ophelia. Hamlet most certainly is not a character that can played on one note, or two notes for that matter. Olivier though is up to this challenge, despite it being a large one indeed. Each soliloquy by Hamlet, Olivier turns into a masterpiece moment. Olivier knows how exactly to film himself, and these scenes are brilliantly handled, in the way they change from his haunted voice over, from his more expressive at the moment reactions, it is astounding. 

Olivier's face conveys Hamlet's deep psychological struggle without fault. To merely say the words is not good enough, and Olivier never leaves it to the word. He punctuates every moment with true authentic emotion. It is the perfect combination of director and actor really, Olivier always knows when to stay on his face, and when to move, it really is amazing. A great challenge of Hamlet is his interactions with the other characters in the play, since they are as diverse as Hamlet's own psychology. In his moments with Claudius, as well as with Polonius Olivier has the proper restrained discontent, and hatred presented as well as a certain degree of sardonic humor which works splendidly.

Olivier greater challenges, I think, come from his relationship with his mother Gertrude, and Ophelia. His moments with his Mother, are strange indeed, in that they seem to suggest almost an incestuous relationship, which Olivier utilizes well actually to more thoroughly present that Hamlet feels truly betrayed by Gertrude, displaying the greater destruction to his psyche. Olivier though mixes in Hamlet's feelings his betrayal, as well as love for her carefully and effectively. Olivier contrasts this relationship brilliantly though with his treatment of Ophelia. He again mixes in emotions, but in more of oddity that deeply confuses and harms Ophelia. He suggests he loves with tenderness at moments, but Olivier is able to properly portray his coldness and cruelty overarching his behavior, which makes Ophelia's downfall believable.

This is a great Shakespearean performance by Olivier. He is able to bring alive the psychological complexities, and emotional complexities without fault. He simply has stunning moments in his performance in his ability to convey all of what Hamlet is through his use of film. I never felt Olivier overacted or underacted this most difficult of parts, instead giving one of his best performances, which to me is saying a quite a lot.


Anonymous said...

Great, you really liked him! I think he'll win, I'll have to wait Clift's review to see what'll happen. You're going really fast with your reviews, great work!

dinasztie said...

Just as I expected and it should be this way, too. :)

Anonymous said...

His best performance for me, closely followed by Rebecca and Wuthering Heights.

dshultz said...

If there is a heaven, I'll bet Olivier smiles every time you right a review of him.