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Directed by Grigori Kozintsev
Produced in 1964
Main Language - Russian with English subtitles
Grigori Kozintsev's renowned Soviet productions of Shakespeare's Hamlet (1964) and King Lear (1971) rank among the finest adaptations of Shakespeare on film, says Michael Brooke.
Ranking alongside Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa as one of the cinema's greatest Shakespeare adapters, Grigori Kozintsev had previously staged Hamlet and King Lear in the theatre, but was pushing sixty when he felt confident enough to translate the first of these to the screen, by which time he'd already written a book on the subject.
Decades of experience dating back to the silent era (when he was a leader of the Soviet film avant-garde) produced a film of overwhelming visual impact: Elsinore Castle is a vast granite edifice seemingly hewn from the wave-blasted rocks, the ghost is a terrifyingly huge figure clad in black armour, while Anastasiya Vertinskaya's Ophelia is so fragile she barely looks as though she'll last till the end of each scene, never mind the drama as a whole.
Innokenty Smoktunovsky, the Soviet Union's closest equivalent to Laurence Olivier, is an unusually firm-purposed Hamlet, helped here by an adaptation that intelligently truncates the text almost by half, but without ever losing sense of the dramatic and psychological structure (Peter Brook was one of the film's many admirers). King Lear, made two years before Kozintsev's death, is equally intelligent, set in a grim universe of mud and torrential rain that's closer to Andrei Rublev than the RSC, with the wiry Yuri Yarvet (familiar from Tarkovsky's Solaris) brilliantly catching the old king's growing madness and despair.
Both films are based on Boris Pasternak's translations, shot in resplendent black-and-white widescreen (a deliberate artistic choice by 1971, but this Lear is unimaginable in colour) and scored by Dmitri Shostakovich - the latter element a particular coup given that the great composer had long since abandoned the screen for the concert hall. But he made an exception for his old friend and comrade-in-art (he and Kozintsev first collaborated in the 1920s), with spellbinding results. The score for Hamlet is electrifying, the ghost's appearance heralded by a spine-chillingly sinister fanfare, its speech underscored by a relentless timpani throb. Meanwhile, Lear has all the spare and desolate bleakness of the late string quartets, the Fool's pipe as much a musical as physical presence.
Michael Brooke on 21st September 2011
Author of 135 reviews
Grigori Kozintsev's renowned Soviet production of Hamlet ranks among the finest adaptations of Shakespeare on film. His strong visual style places the characters on a rich widescreen canvas while preserving the inward dimension of Hamlet's character. Laurence Olivier, director and star of Hamlet, the Oscar-winning 1948 English production, praised Kozintsev's Hamlet, singling out Innokenty Smoktunevsky's performance as the definitive screen performance of the Prince of Denmark.
The surface of ceremonies and rituals celebrating the coronation of King Claudius (Mikhail Nazvanov) and his marriage to Hamlet's mother (Elza Radzina) leaves the young prince indifferent. Hamlet's melancholic nature finds no relief from his brooding, not even in his courtship of Ophelia (Anastasiya Vertinskaya). However, a nocturnal visit from his father's ghost changes everything. Claudius' treachery having been brought to light, and Hamlet conducts a quest to avenge his father's death.
Publisher: Mr Bongo
Length: 144 mins
Cat No: MRBDVD041
Format: DVD B&W
- Please note that this widescreen film has fixed subtitles beneath the picture so if you want the film to fill a widescreen TV and still have subtitles visible then the picture will be stretched