Laurence Olivier Arthur Vesselo - Essay

Anthony Holden

Arthur Vesselo

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Olivier's Hamlet calls for the fullest critical consideration. It is elaborate, skilful and, in patches, excellent; but it is also in patches tedious, and its methods raise the whole question of how best Shakespeare can be translated into film terms, if the thing is to be done at all. There are only two basic approaches in the adaptation of a stage-play to the screen: the one is to concentrate above all on the film and to chop and change, to add and subtract, as the nature of the film medium demands; the other is to concentrate first and foremost on faithfulness to the original, and to let accepted film methods go hang wherever they interfere with this aim. In the case of Shakespeare, there is no doubt whatever which course must be followed, if only because of the outcry which a film-maker would have to face if he dared to tamper to any extent with a Shakespeare play (as witness the arguments even over the excisions, made obviously with the greatest care, that were necessary to bring "Hamlet" down to a possible screen running-time); but it seems that Olivier has still thought that he might be able, by some ingenious tricks of technique, to get the best of both worlds.

This is presumably the explanation of the long and tiring moving shots through the castle of Elsinore; of the exaggerations of physical action, here and there, where attention should on the contrary be focused almost entirely on the words; of the...

(The entire section is 511 words.)