Richard III

1955, Movie, NR, 158 mins

Review

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Laurence Olivier's third Shakespeare film, after HENRY V and HAMLET, and in some ways the most suitable of the three for his rather cold talents. For once, Olivier finds a part in which he can fully exploit his chilly magnetism, and the viewer can only root for his vicious but charismatic cripple.

The picture begins with Richard, Duke of York (Olivier) enviously observing the coronation of Edward IV (Cedric Hardwicke)--the sun (son) of York that illuminates Richard's metaphorical winter of discontent. Richard sets about scheming for the throne, arranging the deaths of Clarence (John Gielgud) and Edward's young heirs, and incidentally seducing Lady Anne (Claire Bloom). After Edward's death, he becomes protector and then king, but must face the House of Tudor in a bloody battle at Bosworth Field.

The battle scene was the first shot (in Spain); during shooting Olivier was accidentally pierced by a bolt from the film's stunt archer that was supposed to hit the protected horse (an animal that had been trained to fall and play dead on command). Olivier continued the scene until a natural break in the action was called for, then asked for medical aid. (The limp he sports as Richard is real, a result of the accident.) It took three hours each day to put on Olivier's complex makeup--the same prosthetics he wore on stage, including a false nose, hunched back, false hand, and black pageboy wig.

RICHARD III was not a hit when it was released in England, so the producers made a unique deal with the NBC television network in the US in which the networks acquired the rights to broadcast the film for the sum of $500,000 (in later years it was re-released to resounding success, and has been the most financially rewarding of Olivier's Shakespeare films).

This film lacks the cinematic boldness of Olivier's earlier screen Shakespeare; there's nothing here to match the gloomy mise-en-scene of HAMLET or the cocky theatrical conceits of HENRY V. But his riveting performance transcends his conventional directing and utterly dominates the movie. Indeed, this filmed record of Olivier's Richard has intimidated generations of actors--how can they hope to compete with an interpretation both so brilliant and so familiar to audiences?

Olivier and Alexander Korda had hoped to film a version of "Macbeth," with Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth, but Korda died a year after RICHARD III was made, and lack of interest in the project caused it to be tabled. The British Film Academy gave RICHARD III Best British Film, Best Film, and Best Actor awards. leave a comment

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