Shakespeare Plays Available in Video Format
Scholars Online Educational Resources

Home

All’s Well That Ends Well
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Coriolanus
Cymbeline
Hamlet
Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
Julius Caesar
King John
King Lear
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Macbeth
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Othello
Pericles
Richard II
Richard III
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter’s Tale
Shakespeareana

Available versions

1948: Laurence Olivier

1964: Philip Saville

1964: Bill Colleran, John Gielgud

1964: Grigori Kozintsev

1969: Tony Richardson

1976: Celestino Coronada

1980: Rodney Bennett

1990: Kevin Kline

1990: Franco Zeffirelli

1996: Kenneth Branagh

2000: Michael Almereyda

2000: Campbell Scott, Eric Simonson

2002: Peter Brook

2003: Michael Mundell

2007: Alexander Fodor

2009: Simon Bowler

2009: Gregory Doran

2011: Bruce Ramsay

2014: Adam Hall

2015: Sarah Frankcom, Margaret Williams

2015: Dick Douglass, Obie Dean

2016: Jennifer Nicole Stang

2016: Simon Godwin


Adaptations

1992: Natalya Orlova, Dave Edwards (animated)

2004: Hamlet (opera, Ambroise Thomas)


Production drama

2003: Slings and Arrows (Season 1)


Educational

1990: Discovering Hamlet

2010: This is Hamlet

2013: Shakespeare Uncovered (Season 1, Ep. 6)


Related

1990: Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead

2008: Hamlet 2

2014: Hamlet A.D.D.


Hamlet
1948: Laurence Olivier

For many of a certain age, this remains the definitive Hamlet. Its moody black and white photography, its tersely cut script, its spare delivery, and the lean and troubled portrayal by Olivier himself, all create a mood piece that is widely considered the best of its kind. It won four Oscars and a number of other prizes; the cast is one of those too-good-to-believe lists including not only Olivier, but Jean Simmons (Varinia in Spartacus) as Ophelia, Peter Cushing (Star Wars’ Grand Moff Tarkin), Anthony Quayle (Col. Brighton from Lawrence of Arabia), Stanley Holloway (Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady), Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings’ Saruman), and a number of others. It also has original music by Sir William Walton.

For all that, I personally don’t think it’s especially good, for reasons largely adumbrated in my introductory discussion. It was popular, I am convinced, because it offers us Hamlet Lite — all the famous scenes and a general impression of the story without any nutritional material. It doesn’t challenge the viewer; it doesn’t ask important questions or suggest that any of the things the characters are struggling with are themselves real issues. It heads off those possible pesky questions by instructing the viewer how to take the play before it ever begins: Olivier himself tells us in a voiceover at the beginning that “This is a play about a man who couldn’t make up his mind.”

Once the character-audience relationship has been successfully circumscribed this way, of course, it’s not terribly difficult to follow through in the same vein, especially if one can have at the length and breadth of the script with the cutting-shears. A great deal of the play is indeed cut: Olivier pares it back (without undue compression) to two hours and thirty-five minutes. There are shorter versions, but they are’t very persuasive either. This is a play that really doesn’t have a lot of fat on it unless you’re missing something important. It should run well over three hours even if you’re going to be sparing about interstitial cinematic material.

His portrayal of the character is commensurately diminished. Accordingly, for me this production retains an intrinsic murkiness about the whole story, while keeping everything knowingly self-satisfied: we are never sure of anyone’s motivation, least of all Hamlet’s; we never know why anyone does or should do anything. But it doesn’t really matter: we have entered a psychological swamp rather than the domain of serious philosophical discourse. I guess that’s the way some people like Hamlet. I’m not among them.

There is not a great deal that would give offense in this version of the play: the language of course is Shakespeare’s, and contains certain bawdy elements (for a tragedy it has a good deal of comedy), but it does not depict nudity, sexual activity, or even much graphic violence.


Bernardo: Esmond Knight

Claudius: Basil Sydney

First Player: Harcourt Williams

Francisco: John Laurie

Gertrude: Eileen Herlie

Gravedigger: Stanley Holloway

Hamlet: Laurence Olivier

Horatio: Norman Wooland

Laertes: Terenc Morgan

Marcellus: Anthony Quayle

Ophelia: Jean Simmons

Osric: Peter Cushing

Player King: Patrick Troughton

Player Queen: Tony Tarver

Polonius: Felix Aylmer

Priest: Russell Thorndike

Sea Captain: Niall MacGinnis

Uncredited extra: Christopher Lee