Branagh Singularity!

This can’t be a good idea, I’m pretty sure the universe will explode. Kenneth Branagh, who we know and love for his Hamlet (among others), who one generation of geeks knows as Professor Lockhart from Harry Potter and a different generation will soon know from his Thor, is scheduled next to play … …Sir Laurence Olivier. Yes, the man who set the bar for modern interpretation of Hamlet will be playing the man who set the bar for interpreting Hamlet a lifetime ago.  Literally – Branagh was born in 1960, Olivier’s Hamlet was made in 1948. The movie, unfortunately, is not anything to do with Hamlet.  My Week With Marilyn will tell the story of Olivier’s time with Marilyn Monroe on the set of 1957’s The Princess And The Showgirl.  Still, I imagine somebody could sneak in some Shakespeare references. I wonder what Branagh’s thinking? How cool would it be to play Olivier?

10 thoughts on “Branagh Singularity!

  1. I assume you've seen Olivier's 1948 Hamlet?

    I've only caught the first 10 minutes or so, and it seemed so godamn pompous I couldn't deal with it. My Shakespeare is vivacious, not bombastic.

  2. Well, I'm not one to complain about dated art: I can recognize those occasions where the era bears much on the work, but there's little doubt to me that "too bombastic" was a legitimate response for many in 1948 as well.

    I haven't seen much Shakespeare, either film adaptations or in theatre, but what I have has severely disappointed me. I've heard Harold Bloom reiterate what (apparently) others have said, that today, it's better to read Shakespeare than see him. And it's not just that as we read, we can be our own directors (this is true at all times). I'd guess the issue is that people stray from the text inappropriately, or worse yet, try to make highly poetic cadence and rhythm sound like natural speech.

    Bah, what do I know, I've seen 10 minutes of Olivier's Hamlet, 30 of a 1980's BBC Twelfth Night production, and all of some BBC production of Much Ado in high school (meaning I remember nothing from it).

  3. Yes, I have — but although it is drastically dated now, you can't deny that it was the standard by which all others were compared for a very, very long time. How many people saw that version in school and took away many of Olivier's choices that may not have been Shakespeare's?

  4. Quite a few, in answer to your rhetorical question, Duane. And if you can get past all the stylistic rococo, there are still some very good things in Larry's version. Not that they'd work today, but valid nonetheless. You sort of have to put yourself in a mode of some kind, kin to getting swept away by an old flick, no matter the stylistic shackles surrounding it by today's standards. It's that impression (p-e-s' legitimate reaction) that turned the acting world on its ear–too much so in my opinion. But that's for another topic.
    But my son has seen Olivier's version a million times–never seems to get tired of it no matter how many times he revisits. It was, of course, the first version I showed him. Maybe it says something about "imprinting". 🙂

  5. PS: It occurs to me that the whole Marilyn vs. Olivier thing was about the very issue of acting style and interpretation. Mrs. Strasberg and her charge Marilyn ($$$) drove Olivier to distraction with their 'precious' Actor's Studio antics on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. Iconic and representative title, no?
    All things in moderation.

  6. p-e-s wrote: "…but there's little doubt to me that "too bombastic" was a legitimate response for many in 1948 as well."

    Absolutely. And the knee-jerk reaction was all for a naturalistic 'realism'. (Which still doesn't quite work in a theatrical setting btw.) As I think we've seen, those actors who can get by with it in contemporary film settings may not fare so well on a stage. That's what I think happened with Olivier in reverse. By all accounts he was a splendid stage actor. But when it came to Shakespeare, I think the particular style of the time caused a certain embellishment to happen. As I mentioned in another thread, we hadn't quite yet recovered from the effects of the Restoration fully before we had 'gurus' affecting a total 190 degrees when it came to all forms of acting, no matter the venue. Primarily, their Method, for what it's worth, works for the camera. Olivier was less 'ornate', if you will, in other filmed efforts.

  7. That is funny. Sellers was an intriguing character. There's a story told about the time he was on the Muppets, and they told him the various skits he'd be in, including one where the celebrity sits with Kermit and just talks. "Oh no," he replied, "I can't do that. I can be anybody you want me to be, just not myself."

    Oddly enough, he does Richard III in that clip, too. Only….while playing chickens.

  8. Love the "discontented" chickens.
    I think he was a genius. And the bit about not being able to play himself, I believe. He was consumed by his characters.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hmm – interesting. I just watched a few bits of Olivier's Hamlet last night, and I love that it's a Shakespeare actor playing him. 🙂

    But, as I am one that had rather go with Sir John than Sir Larry, I have a question for you all, or anyone who still happens to be reading these comments: What current Shakespearean actor would you get to play John Gielgud?

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