Hamlet (1948) Movie Review

By: Alex Phuong (A Toast) –

William Shakespeare is arguably the greatest writer of all time. Even though modern audiences might not completely understand his rhetorical language, his profound explorations and examinations of the human condition made his plays endure for centuries. Shakespeare’s plays have been performed on the stage countless times, but some moviegoers might be hesitant to watch a feature film based on one of his iconic dramatic works. Film studios are also oftentimes nervous about whether or not they should make film versions of Shakespeare’s plays just because the language is sometimes hard to understand. Nevertheless, there have been successful attempts to bring Shakespeare’s characters to life on screen, and the 1948 “Best Picture” winner Hamlet is a great example of such a remarkable (and rare) achievement.

A Toast

Even though a lot of great films were released in 1948 (including the dream-like Technicolor classic The Red Shoes that same year), Hamlet remains a triumph in cinematic history. Laurence Olivier delivers what is perhaps his most definitive (and only Oscar-winning) performance as the tormented Prince of Denmark pushed to the brink of insanity. Jean Simmons also does phenomenal work as the mad Ophelia (and earned an Oscar nomination for her supporting role)! It is also worth noting that Laurence Olivier and Jean Simmons have both played numerous literary characters throughout their extensive careers, which ultimately means that their acting is top-notch.

For example, Olivier played Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (1939) and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (1940), while Smmons played Estella in Great Expectations (1946) and Sister Sharon Falconer in Elmer Gantry (1960). Maybe part of the reason why this particular film adaptation of Hamlet won “Best Picture” was because the actors were able to portray their characters in a profoundly moving way while also speaking Shakespeare’s complex dialogue articulately. It is actually very hard to speak Shakespeare’s words (in a general sense), and the simple fact that this film manages to capture the essence of what is perhaps the greatest play ever written is probably why this film did win the “Best Picture” Academy Award.


Even though William Shakespeare has written some of the most compelling plays that have also stood the test of time as literary classics, some people simply do not enjoy his plays just because of how the English language has evolved over the years. In spite of that, some people would argue that film is a universal language, which can actually help people connect within the diverse modern age (as of 2018).

This film might already be 70 (seventy) years old (as of 2018), but Shakespeare’s timeless story continues to endure thanks to the popularity of the play itself. Students might sometimes dread reading Hamlet in academic settings, but the play itself (and this film) are both classics. The titular character might have struggled to cope with the bleakness of reality, but this celebrated film endures because it really can teach people about what it means to be human. The final question really is, “To be… or not to be?” because the original play and this film both ask audiences whether they should accept life as it is or deny the challenges that can make life difficult.

Hamlet (1948) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: every time Ophelia does anything manic or delusional

Take a Drink: for every iconic scene and/or line that might have been taught in English classes

And Enjoy Your Favorite Drink: during the famous “To be or not to be?” soliloquy

About Alex Phuong

Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University-Los Angeles in 2015. His love affair with cinema began after discovering Turner Classic Movies in the summer of 2004. His favorite film director is Woody Allen, and his favorite movie star is Kate Winslet.

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