Sir Nicholas Kenyon CBE on Kozintsev's 'Hamlet'

Apr 30, 2013

Sir Nicholas Kenyon CBE, Managing Director of the Barbican Centre very kindly recalls for us the first time he saw Kozintsev's 'Hamlet':

I can remember vividly the day I saw the powerful 1964 film of Hamlet by Grigori Kozintsev -- twice. I was a 13-year old in a suburb of Manchester, keen on Shakespeare in a rather English sort of way. The films we had access to were Laurence Olivier's: Henry V of course, and his very internalised and rather precious Hamlet. (I think I had a Pollock's toy theatre with sets from that film.)

But this Russian Hamlet was something else: Hamlet on a massive elemental scale, with the force of nature, the sea, storms, and seabirds as the backdrop to a vivid and brutal story of personal gilt and revenge. The Russian language only served to enhance the grandeur and intensity of it.

I had asked my mother to take me into town to see it that afternoon. It was such a knockout that we went home and I begged my father to take me back for the evening showing. And looming over it all was the powerful, hard-hitting musical score by a composer of whom then I knew all too little: Dimitri Shostakovich. That was a real marker for the future and I never forgot that day.

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