Laurence Olivier's Shakespeare Trilogy

by s-napolitano8 | created - 14 Dec 2015 | updated - 17 Dec 2015 | Public

When embarking on an odyssey through the film adaptations of Shakespeare you will involuntarily, no matter what, hear the name Laurence Olivier. This is for good reason.

Olivier gets it. He speaks the language as if it were just his normal, everyday tongue. The performances are so natural and vivacious that it no longer feels stiff and recited.

Shakespeare flows through Olivier's veins, and his films embody that, I hesitate to say theory because if one has seen his performances it is better called mere fact.

**This list entails Olivier's outing as director & actor so "Othello" is not included, however, I find his performance as Othello is the best out there.**

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1. Richard III (1955)

Not Rated | 161 min | Biography, Drama, History

Shakespeare's powerful tale of the wicked deformed King and his conquests, both on the battlefield and in the boudoir.

Director: Laurence Olivier | Stars: Laurence Olivier, Cedric Hardwicke, Nicholas Hannen, Ralph Richardson

Votes: 3,665

Having just praised his magnificent performance as Othello at the end of my preface, Richard III is right up there with it. This is Olivier showing he isn't just the pretty, well-spoken English gentleman we're so used to seeing him play. Hell, it's not even the charming Henry V. It's a complete U-turn, showing the actor's incredible range.

Vehemently reciting Richard's lines of maniacal backstabbing, Olivier descends into darkness in his grueling path to the throne, stopping at nothing to achieve his goal. The film's power comes from the performance, the pulse is Richard, and having such a bastard leading the charge, and seeing how every en-devour works out in his favor, you almost start rooting for the guy.

Favorite Sequence: Not sure I have one particular sequence, though I did love when the two murderers drown Clarence in the keg of wine.

What's funny is upon first viewing, Richard III was actually my least favorite of the bunch, but had such a lasting impression that the prospect of a re-watch is something I look quite forward to.

2. Hamlet (1948)

Not Rated | 154 min | Drama

Prince Hamlet struggles over whether or not he should kill his uncle, whom he suspects has murdered his father, the former King.

Director: Laurence Olivier | Stars: Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, John Laurie, Esmond Knight

Votes: 13,676

I don't know if words will do this film justice, considering it is one of those rare perfect films. This didn't win Best Picture by accident like films do sometimes, this one was and still is the Best Picture.

As well as with Richard III the first time I watched this film I hated it. (although I really knew nothing of Shakespeare or the language, and I thought the film was shorter than it was) LUCKILY I watched it again and realized how amazing the film actually is.

Olivier, once again, was perfect in the title role, and on top of that I think captured the play's core the best as well. I mean the spirit of his father towering over them, with his hardened and hurt voice asking his son to avenge him. It was hypnotizing to watch.

This film works extremely well at 155 minutes that watching Branagh's 4 hour version after was a bit exhausting. I get that he filmed the entire play, but when it comes to a cinematic stand point Olivier's towers his.

Favorite Sequence: Again, I think this movie works as a whole, and to pick a stand out scene here would be impossible...Sorry I'm not sorry.

What I will say is I believe this is Olivier's best film as a DIRECTOR. I think he really took over this film totally, and saw his dark vision through, and what we have is him mastering the 2 biggest aspects of making a film.

3. Henry V (1944)

Not Rated | 137 min | Biography, Drama, History

In the midst of the Hundred Years' War, the young King Henry V of England embarks on the conquest of France in 1415.

Director: Laurence Olivier | Stars: Laurence Olivier, Robert Newton, Leslie Banks, Felix Aylmer

Votes: 5,150

Henry V is like a party where everyone is speaking Shakespearean tongue. This film is simply a blast to watch, and it's long takes, and quirky beginning just promulgate that statement. (needless to say upon first viewing this one was my favorite)

As you get past the sheer entertainment value of this film, lets first look at Olivier's performance. This role was not his weakest per-say, but I think his least challenging considering how easy the words flow from his mouth, Olivier held down the spot, once again better than Branagh I think (although I did like Branagh's version of this as well). Although the challenges he presented himself with Hamlet, Richard III, and Othello, I'm extremely glad he made this picture.

Favorite Sequence: I loved the start-up of this film, where everyone gathered around ready to watch the play, and we saw it being played out on stage. I got a kick out of it, and loved that it was done in one long take. Great film making once again by Olivier.



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