Critics Consensus

A well-executed labor of love from star and director Laurence Olivier, Hamlet not only proved that Shakespeare could be successfully adapted to the big screen, it paved the way for further cinematic interpretations.



Total Count: 34


Audience Score

User Ratings: 7,527
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Movie Info

Although criticized by Shakespeare devotees upon its release because of director, producer, and star Laurence Olivier's decision to excise large portions of the text, his cinematic version of Hamlet is widely considered the best out of several dozens (and counting). Hamlet (Olivier) is a medieval Danish prince who's still melancholy over the sudden death of his father and the quick, subsequent remarriage of his mother, Queen Gertrude (Eileen Herlie) to his uncle, Claudius (Basil Sydney). Informed by the ghost of his father that Claudius murdered him, Hamlet schemes to take revenge. Unsure how best to proceed, his delays and the horrible secret burdening him eventually lead to the violent snuffing out of several lives in both his family and that of courtier Polonius (Felix Aylmer), whose daughter Ophelia (Jean Simmons) is in love with Hamlet. Greatly influenced by the inventive camera work in Citizen Kane (1941) and by modern, psychological reinterpretations of Shakespeare's play, Olivier's masterpiece was the winner of four Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Actor (Olivier), Best Black and White Art Direction/Set Direction and Best Black and White Costume Design.

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Critic Reviews for Hamlet

All Critics (34) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (31) | Rotten (3)

  • Altogether Hamlet is one of the most impressive films ever made and, so far as Shakespeare's work is concerned, it need never be done again on stage nor for the screen, as the Olivier production... may stand for all time as THE Hamlet.

    Feb 23, 2016 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • Sir Laurence Olivier's masterful version of the classic.

    Feb 18, 2009 | Full Review…
  • Despite winning several Oscars, Olivier's (condensed) version of Shakespeare's masterpiece makes for frustrating viewing.

    Feb 20, 2008

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • This is picture-making at its best, and its showing must be done with the dignity it deserves.

    Feb 20, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • The matter is settled; the filmed Hamlet of Laurence Olivier gives absolute proof that these classics are magnificiently suited to the screen.

    Dec 12, 2006 | Full Review…
  • Laurence Olivier's famous 1948 interpretation of Shakespeare's play suffers slightly from his pop-Freud approach to the character and from some excessively flashy, wrongheaded camera work.

    Dec 12, 2006 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Hamlet

  • Oct 08, 2013
    Before Kenneth Branaugh believed that he was the be all and end all of Shakespearean film, we have Olivier actually being the be all and end all of Shakespearean film. It is a condensed version of the play yes but it takes nothing away from the angst ridden Dane as portrayed by a master.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 04, 2013
    [SPOILERS] Hamlet is a 1948 British picture and it is one of many film adaptations of William Shakespeare's plays. This fine 1948 British's Hamlet is directed by and starred our beloved Sir Laurence Olivier. Well, if you are aware, Olivier is a British actor, director and producer and to have a taste of this gentleman's greatness, he is one of the famous actors of the 20th century. Olivier is easily a classical actor - he played a wide variety of roles on stage and screen and most of them are some major Shakespearean characters, like Hamlet. His contribution for acting, as well as influence on acting for both on stage and screen, has defined him as one of the greatest actors of all time. Hamlet or, The Tragedy of Hamlet, is a story by William Shakespeare. The story surrounded the kingdom of Denmark and it dramatizes revenge. In fact, primarily, the story Hamlet focuses on the character Hamlet and has an unmatched character development of him in the story. Hamlet is perhaps one the most popular and influential Shakespeare's work. Olivier's version of Hamlet for the screen could be one of the finest versions of that form, or maybe the best. I am in love with Olivier's method of interpreting this work by setting a gloomy, eerie and isolated atmosphere in the movie. Probably, that form of direction was indirectly referring to Prince Hamlet himself as at times, Hamlet could be 'mad' or violent, and too, he is dark and has a troubled working mind. Further, under his direction, Olivier too has managed to beautifully capture gorgeous looking shots for some of the scenes. Olivier as Hamlet is wonderful, and his delivery of Shakespearean lines is utterly fantastic - significant clarity in his delivery is very much in evident, and to my belief, that ability makes him a superb actor. Needless to say, his charisma is huge and the physique of Olivier has the 'smell' of an actor who is only suited for a leading role. Olivier is mesmerising. Despite that, Olivier is somewhat ineffective at times. Olivier's performance is great but he hits and misses slightly. Olivier is well supported by talented supporting players. Eileen Herlie as the Queen is vibrant and believable. The job done by Basil Sydney as King Claudius, Norman Wooland as Horatio, Felix Aylmer as Polonius, Terence Morgan as Laertes and Jean Simmons as Ophelia are all positive. I have a notion which states that Olivier has a done a decent job. Yes, this picture is flawed, but it is still an effective modification. Laurence Oliver is a great artist, and his Hamlet will always be remembered as one of the greatest film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play. [4.0/5]
    Alex D Super Reviewer
  • Jun 04, 2012
    Wow, I didn't think that you could get two-and-a-half hours worth of momentum out of "Hamlet", though I'm sure that it can't get any longer. Oh man, those poor suckers who thought that when they saw this film when it came out had no idea what they were in for. In fact, they probably never even got the chance to find out what they were in for, because by the time Kenneth Branagh's, or rather, Laurence Olivier II's version came around, the people who saw this film when it first came out were probably dead. If not, then they probably died about half-way through, not just because it takes a good couple of years to watch, but because Branagh's "Hamlet" makes you feel a whole lot older than you actually are, because, as I've always said, if you've got enough time to watch a four hour long version of "Hamlet", then you're probably old enough to not have anything better to do. Well, either that, or you have a good taste in movies, because that film was awesome; it was certainly better than this version "Hamlet". Still, make no mistake, this is still quite the classic film to watch, because although it's not four hour long dialogue piece good, it's still pretty darn good. Still, as good as this film is, it's not without its faults, because if you're thinking that trimming two-and-a-half hours from an epic dialogue drama would make it less slow, then you'd be surprised. The film is slow in pacing and dull in impact, boasting that classic European dryness, intensified by a matching overly theatrical tone over the dialogue deliver that just doesn't fit all that comfortably on film, rendering it often disengaging. However, the dialogue is not the only theatrical aspect that Laurence Olivier, as director, finds himself unable to execute with total comfort that fits off the stage and on the screen. Scene shifts are jarring, and feel as such, with the film jumping to the next sequence with a kind of sloppy episodicity that leaves the lapses in progressive exposition within the source material to stand more glaring, as we truly see just how brief the layer transitions truly are. Another rather problematic aspect within the source material executed to where that faultiness of such an aspect is made more noticable is repetition, and plenty of it. I joke about Branagh's "Hamlet" being too long, but really, the unabriged source material runs an average length of about three-and-a-half to four hours, which go comprised of few changes in location and much extensive dialogue, so repetition is to be expected, yet no matter how much shorter this version is than that of Branagh's, it falls short on consistent intrigue and scope to mostly drown out the reptition, remaining lengthy, with a more meditative atmosphere that augments the feel for the repetition and, by extension, dullness. The film stands faithful to a fault, adopting all of the histrionics and very stage-oriented aspects of Shakespeare's classic play for the cinematic world that it can not enter unaltered without becoming problematic and inorganic, thus leaving the film frequently faulty and slow. However, for every aspect that Olivier translated inorganically, there is an aspects that he delivers on with enough competence and skill for the film to ultimately triumph as a rewarding adaptation, with aspects that fit like a glove onscreen. The production designs are fine, but not terribly so, yet that is precisely the point, as the structure of this world is livley yet gritty, with deep intimacy and isolation upon the environment and characters in order to pronounce their presence, as well as the dramatic aspects. Credit for such tonal capturing also goes out to cinematographer Desmond Dickinson, whose work goes dated, especially considering that it is black-and-white, yet remains commendable, as he too captures the isolation of the environment with clever camerawork, while capturing the raw grit and subtlety of the drama and tension with clever manipulation of the limited color and lighting. Still, while Olivier taints the film's intrigue with his faulty faithfulness, he himself, as director, also stands as a key player in making the film as engrossing as it is, giving the atmosphere a kind of grace and intensity that may not be consistent in its effectiveness, yet remains prominent enough for the film to engage just a little bit more than disconnect. As director, Olivier is competent, yet remains hit-or-miss. However, as performer, Olivier is consistent in competence, boasting a boldness in charisma that seems to fit the Hamlet role and keeps you engaged during the less intense moments. However, upon the gauntlet's meeting with the floor, tension comes into play, and would be nothing without Olivier, not as director, but as actor, as he captures both the noble and problemic aspects of Hamlet's intensions in a very engagingly clever, yet fittingly offputting fashion, making the character a mysterious figure and his own, transforming into Shakespeare's iconic dubious protagonist with subtlety and grace. Okay, slowing down a bit on my own Shakespearean freneticism, the fact of the matter is that the film remains heavily flawed, yet where it could have collapsed as simply underwhelming, it ultimately triumphs as a satisfying effort by Olivier that's well worth the sit. As the curtains draw, the final product stands as heavily flawed, predictably plagued by slowness and dryness, yet is perhaps most tainted by the faulty faithfulness that leaves theatrical histrionics to damage intrigue, while the hurried play structure damages comfort in the storytelling, yet where these strikes against the film could have toppled it as underwhelming, relatively impressive and cleverly manipulated production and cinematography compliment the atmosphere within the environment, while Laurence Olivier's direction generally graces the atmosphere with many a moment of sharp intrigue, with his transformative, show-owning acting performance embodying the Hamlet character with a compelling charisma and mysterious depth that helps in making his vision of "Hamlet" a generally satisfying revolutionary piece in Shakespearean filmmaking. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Jul 11, 2011
    I didn't particularly like this adaptation mainly because of Laurence Olivier's acting. In my perspective, he delivers his lines without emotion and at times seems bored with what he is saying. In several scenes, the music seems to be intruding rather than adding drama to the film. Or maybe it was the angles of the cameras. Either way, I did not *feel it* when Olivier delivered the soliloquies. I also disliked the actress who played Ophelia. Her acting was not convincing at all. I suppose it has its merits as it is a mostly faithful rendition of the play but I think there's better versions out there (i.e. Branagh's version).
    Wildaly M Super Reviewer

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