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"Now is the winter of our discontent..." With these timeless words, Duke Richard - lounging on his sun deck - sets his murderous plans in motion. His goal: to eliminate the hated rival ... See full summary »
Maria Conchita Alonso
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Richard's military skills have helped to put his older brother Edward on the throne of England. But jealousy and resentment cause Richard to seek the crown for himself, and he conceives a lengthy and carefully calculated plan using deception, manipulation, and outright murder to achieve his goal. His plotting soon has tumultuous consequences, both for himself and for England. Written by
Laurence Olivier wanted Carol Reed (who was then the top British director during that period) to direct the film, but Reed turned the offer down outright. It was his then-wife Vivien Leigh and friend Alexander Korda who persuaded him to direct. Filming took seventeen weeks whereas in Olivier's previous Shakespeare film, Hamlet (1948), it took six months to film. See more »
During the opening credits, the movie is introduced as "Laurence Olivier Present's Richard III by William Shakespeare". The word "Present's" should read "Presents" - the apostrophe is in error. See more »
That "Richard III" is one of the all-time great acting performances is hard to argue with. In the title role, Sir Laurence Olivier manages to be rousing and hate-inducing, menacing and amusing, often all at once. He was the world's greatest stage actor of his time, and Shakespeare was the world's greatest stage writer. So how do they do on the movie screen?
Quite well. Because "Richard III," like "Patton" or "Scarface," is essentially a one-man show, and Olivier was the best Shakespearean actor of his time or since, we are in good hands. As a director (and uncredited co-writer), Olivier telescopes the action on screen in such a way as to negate the necessary stageiness of Shakespeare's text. He moves us the audience from one scene to another by pulling back a curtain and nodding to us to come closer, as if we were an old friend. He yells some lines, then coos others, his vocal dynamics challenging even seasoned readers of the play in terms of what he chooses to accent and what he does not. Finally, he finds the ample stores of humor Shakespeare gave this, one of his darker plays.
"A sweeter and a lovelier gentleman...the spacious world cannot again afford," Richard says of one man he killed, and Olivier invests moments like this with a firm tongue in cheek. While wooing that man's wife (strictly for political gain), he actually draws a sword when presenting himself as the widow's new suitor, telling her to plunge it into him if she won't be his bride. She tells him he's a liar. "Then never man was true!" Richard shouts, and Olivier as he says this rolls his eyes shamelessly, like a silent-screen matinée idol. I can't watch that scene without laughing; it's a Mel Brooks moment.
The film does move slowly, despite Olivier's trims. Entire scenes get cut out, yet the first act is drawn on for nearly an hour with the help of some dialogue brought in from another Shakespeare play. Surely Olivier could have set more up as part of the opening text narrative, and gotten down to business with that famous opening soliloquy.
A worse fault is the woodenness of some of the actors, like the ones who play Catesby, Brackenbury, and especially Lord Hastings. It doesn't help that they don't get the same chance to address the viewer that Olivier avails himself. Sir John Gielgud even seems lost playing a naive victim of Richard's complots. Seen to better advantage are Claire Bloom as the woman Richard woos, Michael Gough as a murderer, and Patrick Troughton as the nasty child-killing nobleman Tyrell.
Ralph Richardson gives the second-best performance in the play as the Duke of Buckingham, a half-step behind Richard in guile and cruelty, but trying to catch up in his own cold-blooded way. It's funny to read here that Olivier wanted Orson Welles in the role. Welles would have seemed too crafty. Richardson makes a believable victim as well as conspirator. Also, you have to mention Pamela Brown's Mistress Shore, who has no lines (because Shakespeare wrote none for her) but manages in Olivier's direction to play a central role by currying the bedside favor of King Edward and of Hastings.
But Olivier of course is the only reason this movie is still watched. And he's worth watching as long as movies are seen. Yes, he may have won World War II making his movie version of "Henry V," and his "Hamlet" was when he became Hollywood's favorite emissary of high culture, but "Richard III" is still the thing to catch the conscienceless of the king, his moment of highest dungeon and merriest perversity. It's movies like this one that remind us why acting can be a noble profession, even for those who aren't knighted for their excellence in it.
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