“8 In comparison to this, Zeffirelli casts Mel Gibson as Hamlet, Glenn Close as Gertrude, and Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia. It is difficult to ascertain who the star of this version of Hamlet is. Raymond Ingram argues that Glenn Close is “the centre of this film. “9 All three actors are associated certain genres. In particular, Glenn Close brings to the film, earlier associations with femme fatale roles such as Fatal Attraction (1987) and Dangerous Liasons (1988). 10 Helena Bonham Carter is a more flexible actress who, prior to playing Ophelia, had starred in films such as A Room with a View (1986) and Lady Jane (1987).
11 Ophelia’s death scene indicates as to where the plot of the play is leading. It is clear that in both versions the affect of such a scene creates tension, and indicates the “conflict, which is to follow between characters. “12 In Zeffirelli’s version, prior to this scene Ophelia’s confusion and fear is shown as Hamlet circles around her (Act Three, Scene One, Line 145-50). A point of view shot is used to show that she is trapped in this situation, and that she may not have a way out, other than by dying. Ophelia’s grief is a result of her father’s death.
Due to not being able to express herself, she is becomes childlike and shows signs of an assertive sexuality. 13 Her childlike behaviour is illustrated when she hands out flowers. These flowers may indicate that she herself, whether knowingly or not, anticipates her own death. In the same way, Olivier’s film gives a close-up that may indicate that she is planning to commit suicide. As she exits the scene, the camera follows. By the time the camera gets to her apartment, she is no longer there. It is at this point that the camera dissolves to the willow scene.
In Zeffirelli’s version, Ophelia is shown leaving the castle. The shot is ominous as it shows the staircase and galleries, which surround her both physically and mentally. It is as though the interior of the castle is personified, making her feel as though she is defenceless. When she walks out into the grounds of the castle, the audience can see that she is grief-stricken. The way in which she walks barefooted on the wet ground, indicates at her childlike behaviour. For Ophelia, the castle is a cold place, which has denied her of any understanding and sympathy.
The outdoors may show that the castle represents the supernatural as opposed to the natural. This is clear when examining the ghost scenes and also when looking at Freudian interpretations of Hamlet and his mother. Duffy, in Davies’ Filming Shakespeare’s Plays, points out that, Throughout the film Ophelia is visually associated with the outdoors. Olivier often composes her scenes to include a glimpse of the countryside, visible in deep field. A floral pattern decorates her walls. Only she seems to have direct access to the daylight world of generation. 14
Act Four, Scene Seven Line 138-57 describes Ophelia’s death. Although it begins as a “pastoral interlude,”15 in the 1990s version her facial expressions show that she is not at peace in this scene. This scene uses the technique of voice-over, which we hear in the voice of Gertrude. This is the same technique that is used by Olivier. The shots in Olivier’s version mirror the words the audience hears. Olivier’s version shows a sole outdoor shot of Ophelia’s drowning and is modelled on Sir John Millais’ famous nineteenth century painting. 16 The audience does not see Ophelia falling or stepping into the water.
The voice-over at this point is coherant with the lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This is a romantic, idealised version, which shows an Eden-like oasis, which is evocative of nineteenth century tradition where death is beautified. Kliman suggests that Olivier’s film works so that the “audience accepts what is on screen as the non-subjective truth. “17 It is not obvious if this is being filtered through the consciousness of a particular character. In this version, it can be assumed that the voice is that of Gertrude but there is no reference or shot of whose perception this is.
In Zeffirelli’s Hamlet, the scene changes and the audience see Gertrude dressed in black, as though she is mourning. Her appearance doe not seem normal to her character, and her voice expresses grief at Ophelia’s death. Although she is upset, there is a slight ambiguity as to whether she herself was witness to it or had something to do with her death. Zeffirelli marks the end of this scene by giving a shot of the lake where Ophelia’s dead body is “pulled [… ] to muddy death. “18 This is then linked to the main storyline as Prince and Horatio are riding towards the gravediggers.
In a similar way, Olivier marks the transition from Ophelia’s drowning to the graveyard scene with a dissolve, which coincides with Gertrude’s voice-over of the words “drowned, drowned. “19 In conclusion, Olivier’s portrayal of Gertrude and Ophelia in this scene shows that in his version, Hamlet is central to the play. It is clear that the women are positioned in relation to Hamlet, and are there to accentuate his role. In Zeffirelli’s version, Gertrude dominates the film. It can be stated that Olivier’s version is a pre-feminist version, where Ophelia is portrayed as a helpless victim.
In comparison to this, Zeffirelli’s Hamlet shows Gertrude as a prominent figure and is definitely a feminist version of the play. Overall, both adaptations of Hamlet offer a different interpretation of women. Olivier’s is a post-war reading, which does not allow the female characters in the play to exert any issues, whereas Zeffirelli’s version goes beyond this aspect to question and highlight the role of women in Shakespeare.
1 Morley, 1978, p. 100. 2 Davies ; Wells, 1994, p. 181. 3 Morley, 1978, p. 100. 4 Pilkington, 1994, p. 165. 5 Kliman, 1988, p. 26. 6 Cartmell in Klein ; Daphinoff, 1997, p. 29.7 Lawson in Klein ; Daphinoff, 1997, p. 231. 8 Cartmell in Klein ; Daphinoff, 1997, p. 30. 9 Pilkington, 1994, p. 193. 10 Cartmell in Klein ; Daphinoff, 1997, p. 36.
11 http://www. homunculus. com/icons/bonhamcarterhelena/BonhamCarterInfo. html. 12 Lawson in Klein ; Daphinoff, 1997, p. 233. 13 Lawson in Klein ; Daphinoff, 1997, p. 241. 14 Davies, 1990, p. 45. 15 Lawson in Klein ; Daphinoff, 1997, p. 242. 16 Rothwell, 2000, p. 25. 17 Kliman, 1988, p. 30. 18 William Shakespeare, 1994, p. 132. 19 Davison, 1973, p. 49. Farah Ahmed P98077347 ENGL 3051 – Interpreting Shakespeare: Shakespeare on Screen Seminar Tutor: Deborah Cartmell.