In the early 60's, Richard Burton was perhaps the most celebrated actor alive. This production by John Gielgud can only cement this perception. At the time, there were aspects of Burton's performance that seemed irreverant. His reading often elicits surprise, weaving as it does between high drama and scurrilous humour. In retrospect, the classic nature of his interpretation is striking. With sheer vocal power and poise, Burton piles layer upon layer of meaning onto Shakepeare's tragic figure.
Burton definitely steals the shown, but Gielgud's careful and thoughtful direction ensures that the production remains an ensemble performance.
Gielgud does not succumb to some of the ambiguities that more modern interpretations have shown. There is no hint here of an incestuous relationship with Gertrude or of madness brought on by Ophelia. Gielgud's Hamlet is the very epitome of reasoned sanity. He is driven by a sense of loss, disillusionment, mistrust, and a desire for certitude.
Like an arrow moving swiftly and surely towards its target, Gielgud's interpretation goes right to heart of the tragedy as it unfolds before our eyes (or ears in this case). It is the mixture of this and Burton's extraordinary reading that perhaps makes this interpretation into the performance of the century.
Highly recommended and, for lovers or students of Shakespeare, an absolute must.