Hamlet (Гамлет / Gamlet) is a 1964 Soviet adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, based on a translation by Boris Pasternak. It was directed by Grigori Kozintsev, who also created a King Lear adaptation in 1971.
Before filming Hamlet, Grigori Kozintsev had long been writing on and creating adaptations of Shakespeare. As part of this, he put on a theater version of King Lear in 1941 and of Hamlet in 1954.
Like Laurence Olivier’s 1948 adaptation of Hamlet, Kozintsev’s version significantly shortens the length of the play. Kozintsev’s version comes to 140 minutes, fifteen minutes shorter than Olivier’s. That’s a drastic reduction from what is at least a four-hour play in theaters.
In general, Kozintsev’s version is faithful to the overall plot of the original play. The only parts of the play which are cut are the opening scene and two scenes from Act IV. Kozintsev made sure to not cut out any important elements of the script. As such, unlike Olivier’s version which focuses on the personal struggles of Hamlet, Kozintsev’s version portrays both the personal and the public turmoil of the play.
All in all, Kozintsev’s Hamlet is brilliant. The pacing of the plot is perfect. The costumes and sets are splendid. The camerawork is inventive. Of course, though, a film is not the work of just its director. And, to that point, the film owes a lot to the contributions of two artistic geniuses: Boris Pasternak and Dmitri Shostakovitch.
The script is based on Pasternak’s poetic translation of Shakespeare.Meanwhile, it’s Shostakovitch’s music that underscores the entire film. A great Sense of Cinema movie review argues that Shostakovitch’s contribution to the movie is akin to Prokofiev’s role in Sergei Eisenstein’s epic, Alexander Nevsky. It goes to show how special this film is. Rarely can you find an example of collaboration from such an amazing group of artists: Shakespeare, Pasternak, Kozintsev, and Shostakovitch.
After the death of the King of Denmark, his brother, Claudius, ascends to the throne and marries the King’s widow, Gertrude.
These events, coupled with Claudius’s licentious ways disgust Hamlet, the former King’s son. However, the arrival of his Hamlet’s friend, Horatio, interrupts his heavy thoughts. Horatio tells him that he has seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Following this, Hamlet becomes determined to communicate with his father’s ghost himself. Having talked with the ghost, he finds out that Claudius did indeed murder his father.
Hamlet’s resultant behavior confuses everyone at court so much that they presume he’s crazy. King Claudius, however, worries that he is only pretending to be mad to hide something. And so, he sends two accomplices to Hamlet to find out what’s really on his mind. However, realizing the true purpose of their visit, Hamlet pretends he really is crazy, spouting meaningless monologues.
Following this, a group of traveling actors arrives at the Danish court. Hamlet asks them to depict on stage the exact murder sequence the ghost told him that Claudius committed against the former king. When that sequence (of pouring poison into the sleeping king’s ear) occurs, Claudius rushes away from the play. Hamlet sees this as proof of Claudius’s guilt.
The family conflict comes to a head, and the entire royal family of Denmark dies. Hamlet himself is poisoned, but not before he kills Claudius himself.