HAMLET directed by Laurence Olivier (1948)
HAMLET directed by Franco Zefferelli (1990)
How about this as a summary of Shakespeare’s most famous play turned movie?:
“This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.”.
If that seems too reductive, how about this:
“A guy comes home from school to discover that his father’s dead. To top it all off his mother is horsing around with his uncle. Add to that, the ghost of the old man comes back to tell him that it was his uncle who knocked him off so he could run off with the Queen. The guy goes off his nut”.
The first is Laurence Olivier’s voiceover before the main action begins.
The second is from an interview with Mel Gibson included in the extras on the DVD of Zefferelli’s film.
Frankly, neither really cuts the mustard but both are obviously aiming to pitch the story in an accessible fashion. Continue reading
REBECCA directed by Alfred Hitchcock (USA, 1940)
This was Hitchcock’s first American film but he was savvy enough to realise that the level of haughty condescension and understated cruelty of the key characters are best expressed by English actors Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter and George Sanders as his slimy rival, Jack Favell.
In this context, one could also adopt Joan Fontaine as a token Englishwoman on the basis that her parents were British.
The key American member of the cast is Judith Anderson as the scary housekeeper Mrs Danvers who is always dressed in black as though permanently mourning the death of Rebecca de Winter; Maxim’s first wife.
The official story is that Rebecca drowned in a tragic boating accident leaving her devoted husband bereft. Before the end a darker version of events emerges but not before the new Mrs de Winter (Fontaine) is driven to the brink of suicide by living in the shadow of her predecessor.
Based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier, the drama here is substantially psychological – unlike the novel, there isn’t even a single murder. This is perhaps why the movie is sometimes overlooked as one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces but the way he creates a slow building tension shows his genius. Continue reading
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN directed by Simon Curtis (UK, 2011)
This movie is based on Colin Clark’s memoir ‘The Prince, The Showgirl And Me’ and tells the story of what happens when an Eton educated 23 year old toff seeks gainful employment in the glamorous world of movies.
Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) is so hooked on all things cinematic that he is prepared to do the most menial tasks to get a foot in the door of the industry. He rises from tea boy and gofer to a role as the third assistant to the director on the 1957 film ‘The Prince And The Showgirl’ . This may not seem the most inspiring of jobs but since it involves working at close quarters with Sir Lawrence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe he’s not complaining.
Olivier is the archetype luvvie and is played to perfection by Kenneth Branagh – it takes one to know one. ‘Larry’ is eager to prove that he can translate his theatrical achievements to the big screen.
Marilyn is not a great actress but as one her American team points out “with tits like that you make allowances”. Olivier is frequently exasperated with her unreliability and ineptitude (“it’s like teaching Urdu to a badger”) but is forced to concede that despite her lack of training or craft, she shines in front of the camera in a way he can only dream of. Continue reading