Oh, well . . .
I had been looking forward to seeing this production for years, but alas, found it to be a considerable let-down. Mind you, Richard Burton was born to play the "melancholy Dane"--and the other players were good, especially Hume Cronyn as the precursor of all blowhards, Polonius--but this was a filmed version of a live performance, not a movie, and it thus lost a great deal in the translation to film. The camera of the cinema is not meant to be anchored, static, stage bound--it speaks to the audience in an entirely different language than does the stage. Here, we have the camera attempting to relay something in another tongue without benefit of a translator. To make matters worse, the play was produced and directed in a manner to accentuate its theatricality, with only a very few rudimentary props, no painted backgrounds, no banners, no costumes (everyone wore clothing that looked as if they could have been purchased off the rack at Macy’s)--not wise choices in this writer’s opinion. All in all, one would be better suited to seek out the great, or even indifferent, cinematic translations of Hamlet which can be found in abundance (most especially Laurence Olivier’s version), or seeking out a live performance in theater. This is not to say that every extant copy of the Richard Burton version should be thrown into the fire. As a historical document it certainly serves a purpose, giving the viewer a glimpse, however imperfect, of one of the greatest actors of our time performing one the greatest parts ever written.
PS. Still, to fully appreciate Burton’s abilities, see him in Becket, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf—performances that leave one wondering how he could have escaped his “mortal coil” without claiming an Oscar.
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