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WILL AND ME: Hamlet (1948) & Henry V (1989) Review

Updated on June 16, 2014
Branagh and Olivier, two of the greatest Shakespearean actors to ever appear on screen and stage.
Branagh and Olivier, two of the greatest Shakespearean actors to ever appear on screen and stage. | Source

HAMLET (1948) & HENRY V (1989) REVIEWS:

CAST:

HAMLET—Sir Laurence Olivier, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Norman Wooland, Felix Aylmer, Terence Morgan, Jean Simmons.

HENRY V—Sir Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Sir Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane, Sir Derek Jacobi, Brain Blessed, Christian Bale, Richard Briers, Paul Scofield, Dame Judie Dench.

CREATIVE TEAM:

HAMLET:

Director—Sir Laurence Olivier

Producer—Sir Laurence Olivier

Writers—Sir Laurence Olivier; adapted from the play by William Shakespeare

HENRY V:

Director—Sir Kenneth Branagh

Producers—Bruce Sharman

Writers—Sir Kenneth Branagh; adapted from the play by William Shakespeare

***

Have you ever been in that situation where you saw or read something so powerful and artistic that no matter what you try to say, you can’t find the right words to describe how much of an impact it left on you? Have you ever been in a situation where the only words that you can come up with are “It’s great”? Just those simple words. No discussion or debate into why you like it. Just: “It’s great”.

We all have had those moments at some point in our lives, and I’m having one of those moments right now: Recently, I’ve watched two Shakespeare films that have become such cinematic classics that I can’t really go into much discussion about the entertainment and artistic value that the films have to offer, other than the words: “They’re great! A must have classic!” Those two films are of course 1948’s Hamlet and 1989’s Henry V (I have to do a conjoined review due my problem of not finding any other words to describe it), directed by the two most down-to-earth and open minded Shakespeare impresarios ever known: Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Kenneth Branagh (with the latter practically being the L. Olivier for this generation).

For those who are young and just discovering the works of William Shakespeare for the first time (or you could possibly be a bogan trying to broaden your minds in order to avoid appearing in another low-brow Paul Fenech “sitcom”), Hamlet tells the story of a young prince named—as the title of the play clear states—Hamlet (Olivier), who receives a visit from his recently deceased father, The King of Demark (also played by Olivier….through voice only), who tells his prince-turned-emo son that he was murdered by his brother (and Hamlet’s uncle), Claudius (Basil Sydney) so that he could steal the throne and marry the queen, Geraldine (Eileen Herlie). This fills Hamlet with fury, and he goes on a morally complex mission to avenge his late father by behaving inappropriately in front members of the royal court in hope of exposing Claudius as the murder and fraud he really is, resulting in a series of personal misfortunes that causes pain to most of those residing in the palace. And in Henry V, England is at war with France, and the newly crowned King Henry the Fifth (Branagh) has to learn how to man up, rid himself of his past as a trouble maker, and get the courage to lead his men into battle, knowing that many will not survive and the grounds of Great Britain may be stolen from right under their feet I they make on military error.

Both these films have a lot of great things to boast: Olivier and Branagh are brilliant as the lead characters and as directors with their own powerful and moody directing style; the supporting cast in both films are brilliant (with the exception of Derek “I-Got-A-Knighthood-Just-For-Squealing-In-Every-Role-I-Get-Like-Paris-Fucking-Hilton-And-Passing-It-Off-As-Pure-Butchness” Jacobi in Henry V, who is annoying in the role of The Chorus (or “The Narrator”), and quite frankly, should be bashed across his head by the Anti-Christ for having the nerve to star in a Shakespeare film, even though he believes in the idiotic and possibly Holocaust inspired belief that Shakespeare and many others who come from simple working class backgrounds should be classed as retards incapable of being successful, thus those sort of jobs like being a writer or a thinker should be saved for spoilt brats with limos that can fly to mars); and the production designs and the cinematography in both features are so artistic that you feel furious that these people didn’t win an Oscar for their work on this production.

Everything about these films are the most amazing things you can ever see in your life. Everyone interested in Shakespeare will tell you that you should watch these films if you plan on perusing you own interest in the bard’s work; and in all seriousness, they are on to something.

My only nit-picks with the films (and keep in mind, these are ONLY nit-picks) are:

1—In Hamlet, Olivier strongly hinted (and during the Queen’s Closet scene, made clear) that the title character is sexually attracted to his own mother, thus a lot of his campaign to punish Claudius is out of lustful jealousy and not morality or justice (a theory suggested by another self-righteous and oppressive Shakespeare-Is-Too-Poor-And-Too-Dumb-To-Write-His-Own-Plays supporter, Sigmund Freud—the most hypocritical, one-sided and arrogant shrink in the history of psychology). I know Olivier wanted to do something daring (unless it was an excuse for him to secretly sexually seduce Eileen Herlie), but the whole theory is just absolutely ludicrous and just shows how head rapists like Freud enjoy making up any old bull-crap for the sake of trying to boost their ego. Since the theory comes from an Anti-Stratfordian (that’s what you call someone who hates Shakespeare and tries to accuse him of being too poor and dumb to succeed as a writer), it’s something only a f***wit would listen too. And I feel pity for Olivier for actually thinking it would be an intelligent creative decision.

2—The scene where Catherine of Valois (played by an erotic looking Emma Thompson) speaks in fluent French to a lady in waiting, with no subtitles (so we have no idea what the conversation is about) and complete pointlessness since none of the other French characters in the story speak in French, nor do they have a French accent (as opposed to Thompson who also speaks in an accent when her character speaks in English). My only comments on that nit-pick is: What the hell man? What was the point with that?

Besides those aspects of the two films, they are really great flicks. If you’re a fan of Olivier and Branagh (and want to pray to God that Sir Derek Jacobi gets dementia and goes to a high security nursing home so we don’t have to hear more of his God awful acting ever again), I highly recommend that you watch this whenever you can. You will not regret it.

The original poster for Olivier's Hamlet.
The original poster for Olivier's Hamlet. | Source
The original poster for Branagh's Henry V
The original poster for Branagh's Henry V | Source

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