Matt's tip of the day: Don't ever get a bruised rib. It hurts to cough. It hurts to sneeze. It hurts to go from lying down to sitting up. It just hurts. And it's not really worth the three seconds of laughter that you might get from an audience who witness your pratfall.
Since rest is pretty much the only suggested remedy for a bruised rib, last night I rested as I watched the victor among 1948's Best Picture contenders...
(based on the play by William Shakespeare)
Laurence Olivier, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Jean Simmons, Norman Wooland, Felix Aylmer, Terence Morgan
4 wins, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Olivier)
Laurence Olivier's iconic adaptation of Shakespeare's most famous work, Hamlet centres on that angst-ridden prince of Denmark with the funny name. Hamlet (Olivier) is depressed. His father is dead, murdered by his uncle Claudius (Sydney) in order to take the throne. To make matters worse, Claudius, now the King, married Hamlet's grieving mother, Gertrude (Herlie). When a troop of travelling actors come to town, Hamlet has the ingenious idea of pushing Claudius' buttons by orchestrating a play that exactly mirrors the new King's murderous act. Meanwhile, the object of his affection, Ophelia (Simmons), is slowly going mad. And, like any good Shakespearean tragedy, by the story's conclusion, almost everyone is dead.
I still vividly remember the moment of clarity I experienced the first time I saw Olivier's masterpiece. It may well have been the first time I truly understood Hamlet, or possibly any of Shakespeare's plays. Olivier (along with his outstanding cast) is extremely adept at making accessible Shakespeare's poetically complicated language. Granted, in order to achieve simplicity, he had to excise a few characters along with a sizable chunk of the dialogue, but what remains is the essence of Hamlet's psychological drama.
As director, Olivier utilises his medium with ingenuity. Acknowledging that a screen adaptation can allow for presentation techniques not available to a stage production, the picture features several innovative elements. For instance, as the Ghost of Hamlet's father narrates the true details of his death, we are shown a re-enactment of the event. Also, some of Hamlet's intimate soliloquies are only heard through voice over, as if the audience is directly listening to his inner-most thoughts. This particularly seems like an appropriate manifestation of Shakespeare's intent, perfectly achieving that insight into the character's internal contemplations.
Adding to the film's comprehension are the superb performances by the cast. Directing himself to a Best Actor Oscar, Olivier (pictured, with Yorick) displays a natural intensity and commitment to the role of Hamlet. He also displays amazing proficiency with the sword during a very impressive duel with Terence Morgan as Laertes. Basil Sydney is brilliantly detestable as Claudius and Eileen Herlie's portrayal of the Queen is gentle and sorrowful. But the only other acting nomination went to Jean Simmons, recognised in the Supporting Actress category for her turn as the unbalanced Ophelia. As the Gravedigger, that's Stanley Holloway (a few years before he immortalised the role of Alfred Doolittle) delivering a witty performance. Delightful as Osric is Peter Cushing, perhaps better known from his Hammer Horror appearances, as well as Star Wars. And for Doctor Who fans, if Cushing's non-canonical portrayal of the Doctor isn't good enough, that's the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton as the Player King.