Saturday, October 23, 2010

II.i. Ophelia Affrighted - Olivier '48

Olivier removes Polonius from this scene entirely, and turns Ophelia's words into a soliloquy and flashback. Unlike most other directors, he chooses to show what Ophelia is describing. There is still a certain amount of subjectivity because the image are clearly coming from her mind (thanks to Olivier's often interesting camera and lighting tricks), but still seems to bleed some of the ambiguity out of it. Olivier's melancholy performance follows the text beat for beat, but by accentuating gestures over words, he brings some of the oddness to light. In particular, the shaking of Ophelia's arm and of his own head make you believe in his madness, rather than any planned cruelty. (Hamlet is such an ambiguous text, however, that we might still infer that causing Ophelia harm on purpose causes those physical symptoms. Perhaps Hamlet goes mad because he is forced to act against those he loves - lover and mother - and so feigned madness becomes real.)
As for Ophelia, she's far from frightened by these events. Instead of the rush to see her father, we have a quiet internal monologue. After Hamlet does a number on her, she simply sits down and resumes her sewing. Obviously, she'll go to her father later, because he talks to the King and Queen about it in the next scene, and the implication may be that the voice-over we hear is taken from that unseen meeting. As we don't hear Polonius' reactions, we cannot confirm that. She may have downplayed some elements or emphasized others. In any case, Polonius has been removed from Scene 1, eliminating much from his character.

All this is not to say Jean Simmons doesn't give an intriguing performance here. Her Ophelia is, as we've mentioned before, a child-like dreamer. Instead of panic, she instead gives us bemused reflection as she attempts to make sense of what has just happened. She peruses her own face, reenacting Hamlet's touch and smiling wistfully. The smile drops, perhaps an inner realization that her father must know of it - a natural assumption as we cut to the next scene at that point.

On a personal note, I can't say I'm a fan of Olivier's melancholy Hamlet, but I am a fan of Simmons' naive Ophelia. She brings something entirely different to the role.

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