I just finished watching Hamlet directed by and starring Olivier. It was strangely cut (although I know that most if not all Hamlets are cut in some way). All of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were cut, an important omission because they fit into the overall development of the play; and, more importantly, Hamlet’s summary and dismissive murder of them (or switching letters and having England murder them) is important to understanding his overall motives and character. All of Fortinbras was also cut, another minor but important element in understanding Hamlet’s motives (Hamlet comments in a well-known passage about how Fortinbras is a man of action, fighting for even an insignificant piece of Polish border.The play, as edited, I think, destroys the deliberate flow of the plot – I realize that Olivier put scenes together (such as the ones with Ophelia) for more coherence; and moved the “To be or not to be…” soliloquy out of Hamlet’s scene with Ophelia to another, much later; but I am a bit of a purist at this point and feel that the character development of Hamlet is weakened by these changes. Also many of the more reflective and thus telling lines of Hamlet and others have been cut.
So, I loved watching Olivier as Hamlet, but I did not like his direction.
One thing that made me reconsider my earlier position on Hamlet’s motives (posted yesterday) were his scenes with his mother, especially the one where he is unnecessarily cruel and accusative – it is clear that this is more than just a mother-son relationship. The text is the same, but the way Hamlet and Gertrude play it on screen leaves no doubt to the deeper nature of the love.
The relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia is also made clearer by Olivier on screen – there is clearly a strong love between them, and probably a sexual one as well; and this too, makes my earlier argument perhaps a bit too facile; although I stick to the view that his overt reactions to each derives from his inaction in the political sphere.