Director: Grigori Kosintsev
Cast: Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy, Mikhail Nazvanov, Elza Radzina
Synopsis: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, returns home to find his father murdered by Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle. Claudius usurps the throne of Denmark, and marries Hamlet’s recently widowed mother. Hamlet is tormented, haunted, and increasingly unstable.
For most people, Shakespeare is something of a challenge (unless transformed into a multi-coloured musical complete with catchy show tunes), so a bleak 1960s Russian version of Hamlet seems like something of a chore rather than a viewing pleasure. But, perhaps surprisingly given that I’m not a great fan of the Bard, I found Grigori Kozintsev’s widely-acclaimed version of Hamlet to be both reasonably easy to follow and quite engrossing, even though the speed of the actor’s delivery of their lines sometimes meant that the subtitles on the bottom of the screen flashed up like blinking lights.
Kozintsev makes good use of widescreen to open up the stage play, and creates some stunning visual imagery, particularly with the brief appearance of the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father, a powerful sequence that’s enhanced by the atmospheric musical score of Dmitri Shostakovich. While the original play runs for approximately four hours, Kozintsev’s screen version is 140 minutes, and he appears to have focused on the political aspects of the story, which are mostly absorbing, but which drag for a time in the latter half of the film. The location shooting in Estonia adds immeasurably to the gloomy atmosphere of the tale.
Famous Russian actor Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy, although probably too old for the part, makes an agreeably melancholic Hamlet although his feigned descent into madness never quite manages to convince. Mikhail Nazvanov is also worthy of mention as Claudius, Hamlet’s scheming uncle who murdered his father in order to assume the throne and climb into the widowed queen’s bed, but it’s Anastasiya Vertinskaya who stands out as the emotionally and physically fragile Ophelia, whose unrequited love for Hamlet and exploitation at the hands of those embroiled in political intrigue, triggers her descent into madness.
(Reviewed 4th January 2013)