5. Grigory Kozintsev’s Hamlet (1964)
Grigory Kozintsev’s career as a director was a long and storied one – somehow, unlike so many Soviet artists, including directors, he continued to make films throughout Stalin’s long reign – but it is on the strength of his last two films, of Hamlet and King Lear, that his reputation largely rests.
The genius of Kozintsev’s Shakespeare movies is twofold. First, as an artist working in a police state, he intuitively understood Shakespeare, who, we often forget, was himself an artist working in the Elizabethan police state. Hence, Kozintsev’s Hamlet emphasises the political dimension of the play (much more so than Olivier’s Hamlet some 15 years before), showing how it is not just medieval Denmark that is a “prison”, but Communist Russia. Secondly, Kozintsev summed up the essence of adapting Shakespeare for screen. As he famously put it, the real attraction of filming Shakespeare was not that you could show a man on horseback but that you could show a close-up of his eyes – you could literally show what he was thinking. And this Kozintsev does time and again with his star, Innokenty Smoktunovsky, who, like Olivier, was a beautiful, blonde Hamlet.