Shakespeare's 17th century masterpiece about the "Melancholy Dane" was given one of its best screen treatments by Soviet director Grigori Kozintsev. Kozintsev's Elsinore was a real castle in Estonia, utilized metaphorically as the "stone prison" of the mind wherein Hamlet must confine himself in order to avenge his father's death. Hamlet himself is portrayed (by Innokenti Smoktunovsky) as the sole sensitive intellectual in a world made up of debauchers and revellers. Several of Kozintsev directorial choices seem deliberately calculated to inflame the purists: Hamlet's delivers his "To be or not to be" soliloquy with his back to the camera, allowing the audience to fill in its own interpretations. Rarely seen in the US, this Hamlet (or Gamlet, as it was known in Russia) is not always successful, but is certainly more innovative -- and lively -- than Olivier's wildly overpraised 1948 version. Director Grigori Kozintsev would follow Hamlet with an equally radical adaptation of King Lear in 1970.
by Hal Erickson synopsis