Hamlet (1948): Olivier’s Best Picture Oscar, Starring Olivier in Oscar Winning Performance

In 1948, Hamlet became the first entirely British film to win the Best Picture Academy Award.

The surprise Oscar-winner of 1948, Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet,” was filmed in a different style than the actor’s 1946 Oscar-nominated “Henry V.” In this adaptation, Olivier used the camera as an active participant in the narrative, and shot in black and white, based on his metaphor for the movie Hamlet is like an engraving rather than a painting.”

Hauntingly photographed, the Castle, with its massive and gloomy corridors, framed the human characters in a cool, detached way, and the Oscars for Art Direction and Costume Design were well deserved.

Olivier is still the only thespian actor to win the Best Actor Oscar for a Shakespearean role.

Hamlet was also the first film to have won both the Venice Film Fest Golden Lion Award and the Best Picture Oscar.

Despite criticism of the 153-minute screen version, which omitted characters and whole scenes from Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet” is still an exciting film, particularly when compared with Zeffirelli’s 1990 version, marred by the miscasting of Mel Gibson, as the melancholy Danish prince, and particularly Glenn Close, as Gertrude.

Oscar Nominations: 7

Picture, produced by Laurence Olivier

Director: Olivier

Actor: Olivier

Supporting Actress: Jean Simmons

Art Direction-Set Decoration (b/w): Roger K. Furse; Carmen Dillon

Costume Design (b/w): Roger K. Furse

Scoring (Dramatic or Comedy): William Walton

Oscar Awards: 4



Art Direction-Set Decoration

Costume Design

Oscar Context

In 1948, “Hamlet” competed for the top Oscar with the ballet-drama “The Red Shoes,” which broke box-office records in the U.S.; two melodramas, Johnny Belinda” with Jane Wyman and The Snake Pit” with Olivia De Havilland, and John Huston’s brilliant crime drama, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” with an all-star cast, headed by Humphrey Bogart and John Huston’s father, Walter Huston.

The most nominated picture was “Johnny Belinda,” receiving 12 nominations, but winning only one Oscar, Best Actress for Jane Wyman as the deaf-mute girl Belinda McDonald. The major awards were spread rather evenly among the five nominees. “The Red Shoes” deservedly won the technical awards in color, a distinction that increased the number of winning films.