In order to constrain Shakespeare’s lengthiest play into a standard running time, Grigori Kozintsev was required to wield the axe and leave several scenes on the cutting room floor. However, the necessary reduction has been carefully selected, enabling the final feature to retain most of the emotive punch of Prince Hamlet’s original struggle.
Innokenty Smoktunovsky stars as the eponymous Danish Prince, battling with the harsh reality that not only has his uncle, Claudius, murdered his father but is also now married to the widowed Queen. Determined to expose his uncle and avenge his father’s death, Hamlet descends into what appears to be lunacy with the audience privy to the fact it is all part of his rouse to uncover the truth behind his father’s death.
As Hamlet and Claudius silently plot each other’s downfall, casualties pile up, culminating in a climactic battle finale. The tragic tale is exquisitely shot with many scenes using their physical manifestations to portray Prince Hamlet’s metaphorical jailing within his façade of insanity as well as his actual imprisonment within the confines of his royal abode, stifled by the incestuous new union.
Kozintsev and co-director Iosif Shapiro excel in using the beautiful landscapes to great effect. Their casting is just as effective with Smoktunovsky excelling as the young Prince. His inner turmoil is well portrayed with the balance of melancholia and delirium leaning only slightly too far on the depressive side.
Smoktunovsky is surrounded by a more than able supporting cast. Mikhail Nazvanov is outstanding as the ruthlessly ambitious Claudius, however one of the most crucial scenes is cut to just Claudius’s well delivered and agonising soliloquy with no mention of Hamlet’s opportunity to slay Claudius during a time of self reflection. Anastasiya Vertinskaya shines as Ophelia whose descent into madness and longing for Hamlet’s affections is marginally more poignantly and convincingly delivered than Smoktunovsky’s.
The screen adaptation packs a punch with grand performances on both sides of the camera and it is clear that Kozintsev has taken painstaking care to stay as true to the original as possible. His attention to detail behind the camera enables the adept cast to portray all the anguish through both their deliverance of the script as well as their interaction with their surroundings.
Best performance: Anastasiya Vertinskaya’s Ophelia lights up every scene she graces as she tries to avoid falling in love with Hamlet whilst meeting the approval of their parents.
Best quote: ‘Doubt thou that the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt that I love’
Watch this if you liked: Othello and traditional Shakespearean adaptations.