Laurence Oliver delivers one of his greatest Shakespearean performances as Hamlet. Seldom has the tragic story of the Danish prince tortured by his duty to his murdered father and by the guilt and fear he feels at the prospect of revenge, been so brilliantly portrayed. It is the tragedy of a man who thinks but fails to act. For as long as Shakespeare is performed this film will stand as a definitive production.
Olivier cut the great play down (it's still 150 minutes!), particularly the (edgy, paranoid) comedy and left us with a film about identity as we journey deeper into the prince's state of anxiety and insecurity. It is in deep focus black and white and set in an Elsinore of yawning shadows and expressionist perspectives. It's basically Shakespeare-noir. The film is all about Olivier, and though there is a fine cast, his performance mostly eclipses them. And though Larry was too old (at 41, his mother was played by Eileen Herlie who was 30) it's still a brilliant portrayal and the film is my choice for the best of the Bard on screen. And it won the best film Oscar, which I think still makes it the only wholly British produced film to do so.