30 May 2016

Richard III (Olivier)

Richard III 1955
  • Director: Laurence Olivier
  • Based on the play by William Shakespeare
  • Cast: Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, Norman Wooland, Laurence Naismith
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Laurence Olivier – King Lear, Sleuth, Oh What a Lovely War, Spartacus, Hamlet, Henry V, Rebecca, As You Like It
    • Ralph Richardson – Oh Lucky Man, Oh What a Lovely War, Doctor Zhivago, Exodus
    • John Gielgud – Elizabeth, Hamlet, First Knight, Morse, Prospero’s Books, Arthur, Gandhi, The Elephant Man, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Oh What a Lovely War
    • Claire Bloom – The King’s Speech, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, The Life and Death of King John, Cymbeline, Red Sky at Morning, Charly
    • Norman Wooland – Barabbas, The Guns of Navarone, Hamlet
    • Laurence Naismith – Romeo and Juliet, The Fugitive, Camelot, TV series
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen:  Several times. Now 28 May 2016      

       To start with the positive: the colours are splendid. If there were film prizes for best colour this would win them all. The sets are all quite magnificent. The shadow work is impressive and there are some amusing details as well as moments of drama. The two boys do convincing performances (more than the stars) and I like Buckingham (Richardson), Catesby (Wooland) and Stanley (Naismith).
       There is so much about this film I don’t like. To start with the melodramatic/chirpy 50’s film music irritates from the start as does Richard’s shiny fake black pageboy wig.  The acting is mostly hammy. Bloom’s swooning, weepy, vampy submission is not worthy of her acting skills. While some of the best scenes of the play are cut – most notably the ones with Clarence and his murderers, and all of the magnificent Margaret – others are drawn out, slow and boring.
       And what of Olivier? Well, Shakespeare’s villainous Richard is witty and charming and utterly convincing both as a lover and a scheming murderer, which is why he gets away with his villainy. Olivier’s Richard is shrill, camp, smug, flippant and slimy. His death scene is embarrassingly bad. Olivier has made undeniably great contributions to British theatre but he is overrated as a Shakespearean actor.
       The film is visually beautiful, visually exciting, but heavily weighed down by its flaws. A pity. It’s one of my favourite Shakespeare plays but not one of my favourite Shakespeare films.

2 ½ * of 5

Read more in my book Shakespeare Calling – the book

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