Hamlet (1948)

Movie review by
Rich Phippen, Common Sense Media
Hamlet (1948) Movie Poster Image
Olivier's classic Shakespeare tragedy has themes of revenge.
  • NR
  • 1948
  • 154 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Revenge and death are prominent themes, as are scheming and betrayal. Some portrayal of suicide. Loyalty is shown by some. May inspire new audiences to explore Shakespeare's works.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are all generally motivated by selfish desires. Hamlet seeks revenge and is conniving in his methods. He feigns "madness," although his mental state does appear troubled. Claudius is ruthless in his desire to obtain power.


Several poisonings, stabbings, and suicides -- although nothing is shown graphically. 


Some brief kissing and holding. A character could be interpreted as having inappropriate feelings for his mother. 


Occasional use of "damn" and "God." The language used is taken from Shakespeare's original play and may prove tricky for some to understand.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink wine and there are brief displays of drunkenness. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this 1948 Oscar-winning version of Hamlet is based on William Shakespeare's classic play and is both directed and stars Laurence Olivier. The language of the film is entirely based on Shakespeare's work. While there is no profanity -- apart from "damn" and "God" -- the dialogue is often hard to follow for those unfamiliar with Shakespearean plays. There are few positive messages from the movie, with characters motivated by revenge and power. A key theme of the movie is death, and while very little is depicted graphically, characters talk about it consistently, and several are killed both on and off screen. A character dies by suicide -- drowning -- but this is shown in abstract form. During some of the sword fighting scenes, blood is depicted and some characters die after being poisoned. But it all feels dramatic rather than violent or scary. There is some depiction of drunkenness. Hamlet (Olivier) has a relationship with his mother, Gertrude (Eileen Herlie) that's steeped in subtext. At two hours and 34 minutes long, younger audiences may struggle with the running time.

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What's the story?

In HAMLET, following the recent death of the King of Denmark, Queen Gertrude (Eileen Herlie) has married the king's brother, Claudius (Basil Sydney). Gertrude's son, Hamlet (Laurence Olivier) is disturbed by the chain of events, and when the ghost of his dead father appears, he has cause to believe that his father was murdered by his uncle. Hamlet swears vengeance and sets about proving his uncle is the killer. 

Is it any good?

The movie was a multiple Oscar and BAFTA winner on its release in 1948 -- the ony Shakespeare adaptation to ever win the Best Film Oscar and the first British movie to win the award. While the use of sets and effects were impressive in the 1940s, by today's standards this version looks and feels more like a stage play. Where it continues to excel is the quality of performance. Olivier remains the yardstick by which all Hamlet performances are measured, and the supporting cast -- including the likes of Peter Cushing and Patrick Troughton -- are on equally good form.

Despite praise for his performance, Olivier's version of Hamlet has been criticized by some. Having cut the play's four-hour running time and omitting two characters -- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern -- Shakespeare purists claim the movie fails to capture the full embodiment of the play. However, with Shakespearean dialogue rattled off at such a rate and a still substantial two hours and 32 minutes running time, this remains a tough watch for youngsters, and perhaps adults too. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Shakespearean language used in Hamlet. Is the dialogue accessible or does it put people off? Should we watch the same stories but with modern dialogue and settings? 

  • Talk about the violence in the movie. Despite it not being graphic, did it remain impactful? Should more movies take this approach in modern day cinema? 

  • Discuss the character of Hamlet. Did you sympathize with him? What were his strengths and weaknesses? Was he justified in his behavior? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

Themes & Topics

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