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CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

1948, 1969, 1980, 1990, 1990, 1996, 2000

Hamlet in First FolioPage from First Folio, 1623
Publication details ▽ Publication details △


First performed
1601 or 1602

First published
1603, in the First Quarto

Literary form


Writing language

Author's country

Five acts, 4,042 lines, approx. 29,000 words

Hamlet 1969 scene
Hamlet (Nicol Williamson) and his mother (Judy Parfitt) share a moment in the breakneck Hamlet of 1969.

Hamlet the Demonic

Hamlet (1969): Also called Shakespeare's Hamlet; director Tony Richardson; featuring Nicol Williamson, Judy Parfitt, Anthony Hopkins, Marianne Faithfull

The 1969 Hamlet, also called Shakespeare's Hamlet, directed by Tony Richardson and starring Nicol Williamson, finds a unique solution to the length of Hamlet and the modern audience's impatience. It includes more of Shakespeare's original text than Olivier's Hamlet but runs through it twice as fast, getting the time down under two hours.

This approach is only moderately successful. Williamson is an eccentric actor, always making interesting choices. His Hamlet is not a man who can't make up his mind, as was Laurence Olivier's, but a man who is obviously haunted, turned inside out by demons. A energetic, frenetic and unbalanced personality. Angry, self-righteous and ironic by turn.

He often speaks so quickly—to himself more than to any listener, even whispering at times—that we lose much of what he says. Famous lines are tossed away.

Nonetheless Williamson's soliloquies directly into the camera or into the distance are riveting. We want to know what happens in Elsinore with this train wreck of a man running around.

Hamlet's duel with Laertes in the last act of Nicol Williamson's Hamlet.

Again age is an issue, though not in the usual way. The eternal problem is that the role of Hamlet is a plum for only the most accomplished actors but, by the time they reach that level, actors are much older than the prince who is about twenty-nine or thirty. Here, however, Williamson is close to the right age for the part (though he looks older), but now the problem is that the actors portraying his mother (Judy Parfitt) and his uncle (Anthony Hopkins) are also about his years, which doesn't make sense.

Horatio is even more of a puzzle: veteran actor Gordon Jackson (Upstairs, Downstairs) is in his mid-forties at this time but as Hamlet's buddy he appears to be older—balding and bespectacled. The only player besides Williamson who is the right age is Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia, and the singer-actress, known best at the time as Mick Jagger's girlfriend, is about as insubstantial a presence as you might expect.

In short (and I do mean short), this is a quirky, diverting Hamlet to pick up if you want to get through the play quickly.

— Eric


CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

1948, 1969, 1980, 1990, 1990, 1996, 2000