Best Picture #21: Hamlet (1948)

Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is Hamlet (1948).

Given how foundational Shakespeare is to storytelling in general and how often his works are adapted to film, it’s somewhat surprising that this is the only Shakespeare adaptation to win Best Picture. Though, Laurence Olivier did understand Shakespeare better than most, with a heavy background in stage adaptations. The first film production of Hamlet to use sound and the first British film to win Best Picture, Olivier’s version of Hamlet is still among the best put to film and proves his literacy in both stage and screen productions as he was able to adapt it by cutting hours worth of material from the original and make something that wasn’t simply a retread, while still maintaining a respect for the source and all of the major aspects. Though Shakespeare is always better enjoyed on stage, among filmed adaptations, this is an essential.

The Real Best Picture:

Hamlet is quite good but The Red Shoes is the greatest film ever nominated for Best Picture. That The Red Shoes did not win the award is an irredeemable blemish on the Academy’s already spotty track record.

Best Picture Winners

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