Sunday, February 14, 2010

Act I Scene 3 - Olivier '48

The camera, mobile as ever, tracks through a corridor and finds Laertes seeking his sister out, as lyrical music plays. This is our first introduction to a lovely young Jean Simmons as Ophelia. Simmons plays her as a dreamer, slightly naive and child-like. Her family may well have cause to fear for her. Flower patterns on the walls and an open window (with a strange landscape if we're high up on a cliff) place her in nature. The association to flowers is well exploited in her madness and suicide, and for the first time, I note here there is a pun on that idea in the text - she is a "green girl".
Laertes catches her reading a note from Hamlet (perhaps the very note that Polonius later reads the the King and Queen), which gives him occasion to warn her off the moody prince. This is a departure from other representations. It makes Laertes less unnaturally obsessed with his sister's virginity. He doesn't broach the subject without provocation. This allows for a kinder and gentler relationship with Ophelia. She is not chided, but kindly advised, which fits her teasing manner later. Speaking of which, "Do not, [...] Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven" strikes me for the first time as foreshadowing. By warning her off Hamlet, he sows the seeds of her destruction. At least, that is how she may later interpret events. Her death, implied in the way to heaven, will be a difficult one.

She hides the note as her father arrives to gives his blessing and advice. To highlight her childishness, Olivier has Ophelia punctuate her father's advice with gestures. Pixie-like, she smiles and teases her brother through the whole speech. It's quite entertaining. It starts with "familiar not vulgar" as she puts her hand on her brother's shoulder as a sister would. On "hoops of steel", she hugs him tightly.
The talk of a quarrel has her pulling at his dagger. On "apparel", she tugs at his collar. And on the topic of lending and borrowing, she teasingly fishes into his purse. A very nice way to stage a scene that might otherwise be tedious (directors and actors must continually fight against Polonius' tediousness), making a point about Ophelia herself in the process.

After Laertes leaves, Polonius interrogates his daughter about Laertes' counsel and thus, about Hamlet. And again, it's much kinder than in other versions. When he tells her she speaks like a "green girl, Unsifted in such perilous circumstance", his tone is not that of surprise. That's what she IS. It's the answer he expected, and now he will tell her how things really are. Again, subtly different line readings and performances bring new interpretations to the fore, which I had not considered just looking at the text. Ophelia HAS to be "green" (or seen to be so), or else she would not need her family to protect her virginity. So there is no outrage at her naivety from Polonius, only statement of fact.

As previously mentioned, Olivier breaks Scene 2 up after the soliloquy to insert Scene 3. This is frequently done to get all the introductions out as early as possible, but in this case, there's more going on.
By overlapping the two scenes, Ophelia gets to glimpse the melancholy Hamlet from a distance (post-soliloquy but pre-meeting Horatio). It's a silent goodbye that creates a relationship between the two (as with Branagh's flashbacks). The play doesn't give us a happy moment between the lovers before things start to go wrong. Any happiness between them is only spoken of and not seen. Why is a question we might try to answer at some point.


snell said...

Tennant Hamlet set for USA DVD/Blu-Ray release May 4th...

Siskoid said...

That is excellent news. Earth WILL be destroyed.

Hey, what's Cyber Leader doing here?