Kenneth Branagh, my loyalties lie in his hands. The only circumstances where I will actually sit through 3-4 hours of Shakespeare is if it was birthed (as in written, directed, starring, producing, costumes made by, etc.) by the all and powerful Branagh (how many times can I use "Branagh" in a story, lets see...).
Before there was Branagh, Shakespeare had another devotee; Sir Laurence Olivier. Because of the many, many, similarities these two share, I have an incredible theory that they are the same person.
When I saw that the next movie on the Best Picture train was Olivier's version of Hamlet (also directed and starring Olivier), all I could do was compare it to Branagh. After watching his epic 1996 version in my Sophomore English class, we almost had a revolt when my teacher dared to suggest popping in the Mel Gibson version just for comparison's sake. I mean, no one out crazies Kate Winlset as Ophelia, nobody. Once you go Branagh you never go back.
I am also not going to pretend that I actually sat and actively watched this whole thing. Sorry Olivier, but making some rockin' meatballs and knitting kept me entertained for a bit.
In all seriousness, Olivier as Hamlet is obviously a classic performance (and won his only acting Oscar for it). He is Laurence Oliver after all, and is not just remembered as one of the greatest actor as a gag; he is actually talented.
Where Branagh's version stands out because of the incredible visually epic scale, this 1948 version stands on its own for being able to capture the very creepy and menacing tone of the play without all the technology. The scenes where the ghost of Hamlet's father (spoiler alert) comes back to scare the crap out of all the characters is actually one of the eeriest things I have seen in awhile.
Even though I have seen this story performed a million times and I did slightly distract myself, I was surprised by how much my attention was still drawn to the movie. Sometimes a classic will always be a classic.
Sorry Branagh, I had to cheat on you this one time, and it will not happen again.