Wednesday 24 March 2021

On demand: "Hamlet"

Grigori Kozintsev's 1964 film remains the most forcefully widescreen Hamlet - shush, Branagh - with an Elsinore that's been carved out of a clifftop, a set of steps Eisenstein would have tumbled for, and vast murals on every interior wall, not to mention a Ghost with a vividly billowing cape, an actual ship to convey the protagonist to England, and a thundering great Shostakovich score over the lot of it. To this scope, the adaptation, in which Kozintsev had the assistance of no less a figure than Boris Pasternak, adds the advantage of speed, rattling through the key points inside two-and-a-half hours. In close-up, the 39-year-old Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy looks even older than Branagh did in 1996 - he's an unusually jowly Prince, somewhat akin to Joe Longthorne's Hamlet - but you buy him as a fretter and a worrier: we see and feel the weight of this world - and these words - pressing on his shoulders. The age actually does something interesting, I think: it fleshes out what has elsewhere been portrayed as an angry young man's rebellion, and transforms it into a midlife crisis. This Hamlet strikes the eye as a fully-grown yet weary old salt trying to figure out some renewed purpose in life, and a reason to move forwards without lapsing into the rottenness and rank corruption around him. Between the craggy shoreline and the hero's shock of blonde hair, the film lands closer to Bergman territory than any other screen Hamlet; you half-expect the Grim Reaper to ride in alongside Fortinbras come the final reel. Otherwise, if you set aside the curiosity of couplets coming out in Cyrillic, a broadly trad staging - even the intermission is where it might be in the theatre - but it knows what works, gets it to work again, and visualises that with real dynamism.

Hamlet is currently streaming via Klassiki Online.

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