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One of the best Shakespeare films ever made
TheLittleSongbird9 March 2011
Richard III is a wonderful film. I love the play too, it is not my favourite of Shakespeare's plays but it does have some memorable scenes and lines and Richard III himself is a character you are unlikely to forget. This 1955 film is for me one of the Shakespeare films ever made. Why? Because it does have some wonderful production values. The cinematography is marvellous to look at and the scenery and costumes are impeccable. Sir William Walton's score is also superb, I am becoming much more receptive to Walton's music and the music here is a big reason why. The story is compelling and the dialogue and direction are wonderful.

The cast give it their all. John Gielgud is especially wonderful and very memorable as Clarence, but Laurence Olivier is absolutely brilliant and gives one of his best and most charismatic performances ever here. Overall, a fantastic film. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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The Summit of Acting Nobility
bkoganbing25 December 2005
It's quite a gap that Laurence Olivier covers between his portrayal of heroic Henry V and the evil Richard III. But he certainly does cover it well.

In fact this production boasts the talents of five knighted thespians in its cast, Olivier as Richard, John Gielgud as Clarence, Ralph Richardson as Buckingham, Cedric Hardwicke as Edward IV and Stanley Baker as the Earl of Richmond. That is probably some kind of record.

Once seen you will not forget the heavily made up Olivier with a shylock type nose and hunchbacked form. Unlike in Henry V and in Hamlet the title character's soliliquys are delivered straight to the audience rather than in voice-over. I think Olivier like Shakespeare wanted to emphasize the evilness of Richard as opposed to the tormenting doubts that Henry and Hamlet suffer. No doubts here, he's got his evil course well planned and he's very matter of factly telling his audience what's in store.

Of course when Shakespeare wrote this he was gearing up the Tudor dynasty propaganda machine. Stanley Baker's Earl of Richmond becomes Henry VII grandfather of the Queen whose patronage Shakespeare enjoyed. It was in Tudor family interest to blacken Richard's name to support their own dynastic claims. There have been several plausible theories put forth to claim the murders of Edward V and his brother were done by others.

One guy who in all the stories about Richard III who gets a whitewash is the Duke of Clarence. As portrayed by John Gielgud, Clarence is an innocent sacrificed in Richard's march for the throne. Actually Clarence was quite the schemer himself. He was in communication with Louis XI of France looking for aid in some plotting he was doing. Edward IV overlooked an incredible amount of treachery with him.

One very big flaw is that the film opens with Edward IV being restored to the throne again in 1471 and he has his son with him. Edward IV died in 1483 and the sons have not aged a mite. I believe they were 12 and 9 when they were put to death in the Tower of London in 1483. I'm surprised Olivier had that in his film.

Still and all it's a fabulous production and one should never miss a chance of seeing all that acting nobility in one film.
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What a Scoundrel/What a Remarkable Character
Hitchcoc14 December 2016
Laurence Olivier's performance is without blemish. If there is a character more complex in all of literature, I don't know who it is (Hamlet might do for some). Richard is the deformed Duke of Gloucester who connives and murders his way to the throne. He is indeed a ruthless serpent, but he has become this way due to the types of assaults on his physical presence that he has endured. He is a child murderer and a manipulator. He works his will on women and somehow gets them to not abhor him. When he gets what he wants, he tosses people aside. Of course, there are prices to pay for this. The whole thing, however, is that we can't take our eyes off Olivier as he plays the tyrant to perfection. The scene at the end as he fights on Bosworth Field is striking. Of course, it takes more than one person to bring this off. An all-star cast and wonderful settings and, of course, the language is masterful.
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History may have misjudged Richard, but this interpretation is classic.
mark.waltz9 November 2020
Warning: Spoilers
It certainly would have been easy to overdo the alleged hideousness of King Richard III of England, but thanks to the subtlety of Laurence Olivier's performance, the result is a classic that is a far cry from other screen interpretations of the legendary and often infamous ruler. No Basil Rathbone or Vincent Price of the two "Tower of London" films (1939 and 1962), Olivier only shows a slight rise in one shoulder and his back is not as expanded as other portrayals that I have seen on screen and on stage. Olivier narrates the film, often talking to the audience before interacting with other characters, and that makes it appear as if he is taking the viewer on a guided tour around medieval England.

With Sir Cedric Hardwicke as his brother King Edward IV and John Gielgud as the other sibling, the Duke of Clarence, this has historical value not only for its recording of one of Shakespeare's most performed plays but for its joining together of great English thesbians. Hardwick, playing this in between his roles as Emperor Julius Caesar in "Salome" and pharaoh Seti in "The Ten Commandments", wisely underplays so his performance will not seem as brash and avoids the camp of those two other royal roles. Gielgud, in his few scenes, shows the authority, and his final scene in the tower with the vat of wine is done with great restraint.

Then there's Ralph Richardson, Stanley Baker, Claire Bloom and Helen Haye in other major parts, and hey really add to the atmosphere of authenticity even though some of the historical aspects of the story are questioned now. one of the most fascinating moments comes when one of the young prince's insults Richard's appearance, causing sudden silence and a glare from Olivier that would frighten most young boys into panic. The reaction to it is one of shock from the bystanders, but Olivier's reaction with humor indicates the possibility of something sinister going through his mind which makes the scene all the more devious.

One of the things that you notice immediately is the detail put into the sets, costumes, makeup and hair. while speaking to the camera, Olivier shows a lot more makeup on his face then in the scenes later in the film that concentrate mainly on the story. It gives a bit of femininity to his character that adds subtle elements to what seems to be motivating him.

The photography is stunning, so crisp and detailed that you want to take in every moment and Paul every visual element out so it remains in your memory of viewing this film. even at two and a half hours, the film is never dull, and while there is little action, that doesn't slow it down one bit. I really felt like I had gone back to the 15th century, feeling the chlostrophobia of the medieval sets that while they had large ceilings, feel like they could close in on you at any second. The 1990's update of this story (set in the 1930's) is a great companion piece because it's almost a metaphor of what Shakespeare was trying to say in the historical setting of the original, and that makes the legend of this classic tale all the more were they of seeing again and again.
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The Hollow Crown
Prismark1013 April 2017
In many ways this is a stage-bound adaptation and with Olivier in the lead role this is not a bad thing. After all he was one of the theatre greats of the twentieth century.

In Richard III, Olivier constantly turns and talks to the audience with his devilish plans to ascend to the throne of England. Aided by his cousin the Duke of Buckingham (Ralph Richardson) he soon replaces King Edward IV (Cedric Hardwicke), rids himself of his other brother George (John Gielgud) and dispatches his young nephews to the tower and then brings their tender lives to a premature end.

The deformed, despicable hunchback even seduces the widow of a man he murdered for his own purposes, Lady Anne (Claire Bloom).

Once Richard ascends to the throne he finds that he has to do battle with a rival who also stakes a claim to the hollow crown.

This is a chance to see Olivier, still in his pomp speaking the Bard's verse. Unfortunately the accompanying music is too bombastic and Olivier's death scene verges on the ham.
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Richard III
jboothmillard14 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Maybe if I had seen this before the really good Sir Ian McKellen adaptation I would have thought this was a good classic traditional film from William Shakespeare, but to be honest, I preferred the McKellen version. However, with Lord Sir Laurence Olivier directing, producing and acting in the lead role, with a BAFTA win and Oscar nomination, no-one can complain that he is a good Richard III/ of Gloucester. You probably already know the story, he says the great line "in the winter of our discontent", tells us his plan to win the crown of Britain, gets it, and dies in the war (in quite an odd fashion), I can't really remember any highlights, but if you like the classic version instead of the more modern remake, then this is a good film. Also starring Ralph Richardson as Buckingham, Claire Bloom as Lady Anne, Sir John Gielgud as Clarence, Sir Cedric Hardwicke as King Edward IV, Mary Kerridge as Queen Elizabeth, Pamela Brown as Jane Shore, Alec Clunes as Hastings, Sir Stanley Baker as Henry Tudor and Batman's Michael Gough as Dighton. It won the BAFTAs for Best British Film and Best Film from any Source, and it won the Golden Globe for Best English-Language Foreign Film. Sir John Gielgud was number 35, and Lord Sir Laurence Olivier number 21 on The 50 Greatest British Actors, Olivier was also number 3 on Britain's Finest Actors, he was number 14 on 100 Years, 100 Stars - Men, and he was number 4 on The World's Greatest Actor. Good!
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The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.
rmax30482317 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I suppose there are different ways of presenting this play and different ways of interpreting the characters but I doubt that any will be an improvement over Olivier's attempt. He does a splendid job as lead and as director.

And it's not an easy story to follow either. Oh, we know Richard the man pretty well. To call him Machiavellian is to do Machiavelli an injustice. Richard is more of a psychopath and would be easy to find under a longer and more elaborate name in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. My God, he's so unashamedly evil, cackling at the audience as he pulls off his stunts, that he's laughable. We kind of lose him towards the end -- those murders of the two kids in the Tower are unforgivable. It's one thing to bash a rival, however innocent, over the head and stick him in a barrel of wine to drown, but it's another to harm a child, kick a dog, or smoke in public.

But although we can grasp Richard, it's a little hard to follow the story unless you know your English history. I was forced in high school to memorize the English kings and queens -- beginning with Ethelred the Black, or was it Ethelblack the Red -- and it didn't help a bit in following the plot in this play. Come to think of it, why were we forced into that in the first place. What good could such knowledge possibly be in Newark, New Jersey? Would it help you get a job in the Pabst Brewery? No. No, it wouldn't. It was the teacher's brilliant idea. I never liked her anyway. Even her name -- Miss Viola Wormwood.

Anyway, it's kind of humiliating to think that the groundlings in Shakespeare's audience knew more about the rules of succession than most of us do today. We just have to take it on faith that Clarence and the rest had to be knocked off in order for Richard to pluck down that crown.

There are a lot of other aspects of intrigue that got by me, and I imagine get by a lot of others. I suspect that in some way, at some level of consciousness, Olivier, who constructed this play with the precision of a horologist, must have realized this because there are times when he rattles off some lines of confusing dialog with such speed that they can hardly be grasped. It's as if he'd shrugged and decided to just let it go. We still get the sense of what's going on, if not the details. Actually, Olivier always pronounces his words evenly and with rapier-like staccato precision. It's interesting to compare his delivery with that of the more old-fashioned John Gielgud, who tends to use rrrringing tones and adds a dramatic vibrato to some of his more important pronouncements, as if aiming for the balcony.

There are a couple of problems with the plot that originate with Shakespeare. For one thing, here is Richard -- not only a treacherous liar and murderer but a rude lump of foul deformity, yet he's able to seduce Lady Anne who, in this event, is the radiant Claire Bloom. Every man should be so ugly.

And before the climactic battle on Bosworth Field, Richard lies sweating in his bed and is visited by the ghosts of his victims. The next day, sleepless and ruffled and uncertain, he reveals his troubles to some subordinate. I don't know where that came from. He's been a textbook-perfect psychopath and suddenly he suffers pangs of conscience? ("Conscience is for cowards.") It doesn't last long, though. He perks himself up without so much as a cup of morning coffee, swings up on his horse, wheels around, leans down and chuckles at the camera, "Richard is himself again." Doesn't matter. It's a great performance of a great play in a great movie.
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blanche-223 March 2009
Sir Laurence Olivier is "Richard III," a film produced and directed by him. He surrounded himself with only the best: Cedric Hardwicke, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, and Claire Bloom. Shakespeare took great liberties with the life of this King, but in so doing, created one of the great characters in theater. And who better to play him the limping hunchback than Olivier? In the documentary on Laurence Olivier, "Laurence Olivier: A Life," he speaks in great detail about the production, including his decision to model Richard's appearance on producer Jed Harris. Apparently a lot of people hated him, as he was also the model for the Big Bad Wolf, and the documentary shows Richard and the Wolf side by side. It's a scream.

Olivier plays the cunning, manipulative, evil Richard to perfection, with tongue firmly in cheek during some moments. He speaks to the audience throughout, which is an excellent device. There's not too much to be said about the rest of the cast - just the mention of their names says it all.

The battle scenes are great, and when Richard screams, "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse," it's magnificent. Wonderful score by William Walton.

History tells us that Richard probably wasn't deformed, that he probably didn't kill Anne's husband, that no one knows what happened to his nephews, and Lady Anne probably died of tuberculosis and not poison. History also tells us that he stole the crown from his nephew by claiming he was illegitimate; and that Buckingham indeed turned on him. So something tells me that being in Richard's way maybe wasn't such a good thing in real life, either.

Truly magnificent. A must see.
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"My Kingdom for a horse!"...
Doylenf10 February 2009
Just before he meets his gruesome death, RICHARD III utters those immortal Shakespearean lines--and, as delivered by LAURENCE OLIVIER, they are spoken in a highly melodramatic manner--as is most of the other prose whenever someone has a "big" scene to play.

But Olivier gives most of the big moments to himself--and he does them with great finesse and dramatic flair. Still, I think his Richard could have been even more threatening than he managed to be (I'm thinking of Basil Rathbone in THE TOWER OF London). Likewise, RALPH RICHARDSON gives a sly look or two while they're plotting to eliminate candidates for the throne, but never seems to be evil enough to make his part seem believable. He almost seems like an innocent victim of Richard's machinations at times.

CLAIRE BLOOM is lovely as Anne, but her sudden switch from mourning widow who spits at Richard to a woman who listens calmly to his loving talk and accepts an engagement ring is slightly ridiculous.

The British cast is uniformly excellent, as always in these Shakespearean things, and JOHN GIELGUD is especially convincing as the ill-fate Clarence who gets drowned in a vat of wine.

The killing of the two boys in the Tower could have been handled with more high drama than it is, but all the highly dramatic moments seem to go to Olivier only.

Best acting job in the cast is done by ALEC CLUNES as Lord of Hastings, the only actor in the whole show who knows how to underplay effectively rather deliver bombastic shouts. CEDRIC HARDWICKE chews quite a bit of scenery in his death scene.

William Alton's music is quite impressive, as is the color photography, vivid and affording many striking visuals of interiors and exteriors.

The device of Richard speaking asides to the camera is a bit overused at times and is a bit distracting until the viewer gets used to it.

Summing up: A good film, but not a great one--could have been so much better.
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Can I Do This ...? No
writers_reign6 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I make no apologies for finding Olivier Vastly overrated (alongside Hitchcock, Scorsese, etc) and placing him definitely in last place in the original quartet of thespian knights (you can perm any three of the others, Redgrave, Richardson, Gielgud, and leave old Larry dead in the water) still hype is a powerful force and the Academic/Pseud axis is happy to succumb time and time again. Having an ego slightly smaller than Australia Larry has seen fit to change the celebrated opening soliloquy, cut it when it does appear and intermingle it with speeches from Henry VI Part III and, still not content move Clarences arrest (Shakespeare was content to end the 'now is the winter of our discontent ...' speech with Clarence entering under arrest and Richard's feigned innocence ...'brother, good day, what means this arme'd guard that waits upon your grace?' but Shakespeare's genius is a bad nowhere to Olivier's ego) several minutes down the line. No doubt Larry would cite Orson Welles and Chimes at Midnight (which was actually filmed a good decade after Richard III and remains head and shoulders the best ever film adaptation of Shakespeare) but Welles was openly merging the two parts of King Henry IV and mentions in Henry V to tell the story of Falstaff whereas Olivier was, theoretically at least, filming only Richard III. Still, it does have its admirers and so be it.
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First Rate Production! A Classic Film!
Sylviastel11 December 2005
It is kind of sad to know that this was Lord Laurence Olivier's last film by the works of William Shakespeare simply because it failed in the movie theaters. Besides Olivier's performance, there was Sir John Gielgud, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and Sir Ralph Richardson in supporting roles. The color is first rate for its time period. The costumes are gorgeous. Claire Bloom gives the best female performance in the film as Lady Anne. This film should have allowed Olivier to do more Shakespeare films like he wanted to do. Instead, he went on to do other roles. This film is worth viewing for the stunning interpretation of William Shakespeare's works. If you seen Olivier's films like Hamlet, he does give remarkable attention to detail. Olivier reminds me of Orson Welles who produced, wrote, directed, and even acted in the number one film of all time, Citizen Kane. I believe Olivier was trying to capture that by doing Shakespeare. I am sure William Shakespeare is proud of the work done by actors like Olivier, Gielgud, Richardson, Welles, Hardwicke, and hundreds of others. This film would be suitable for the classroom and worthy for viewing for historic and entertaining purposes. Please give it a chance.
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That slit-eyed, snaky, deformed embodiment of evil
JamesHitchcock18 April 2017
"Richard III" was the third, and last, of the three Shakespearean films directed by Sir Laurence Olivier, after "Henry V" and "Hamlet". The story is too well known to be set out here; indeed, Shakespeare's version of history is probably more familiar than the story of the real King Richard. The prologue states that the film is based as much upon legend as upon historical fact, thereby acknowledging that Shakespeare used a good deal of artistic licence. In some ways, in fact, the film goes even further than Shakespeare in its rewriting of history, although normally for a good artistic reason. The film opens with a scene not found in the play, the coronation of King Edward IV who is accompanied by his wife, two sons and adult brother Richard. In fact, Edward's coronation took place in 1461, when he was unmarried, his sons as yet unborn and Richard still a child. This scene, however, enables Olivier to assemble all the main characters and introduce us to them.

The real Edward IV was a strong, vigorous man, standing around 6' 4" tall, who died suddenly at the age of forty. Here he is played by the diminutive, sixty-something Cedric Hardwicke, as a feeble old man. The purpose behind this piece of casting was to emphasise Richard's Machiavellian nature, secretly laying long-term plans to seize the throne in the inevitable event of his brother's demise. (In reality, Richard was probably as taken by surprise as anyone else by his brother's death, and his rise to power was a quick reaction to fast-moving events). Similarly, Edward's death and Richard's seizure of power took place in the spring and early summer of 1483, but here these events are shown as occurring during a bleak, snowy winter, to emphasise that the brief "glorious summer of this sun of York" is now over and that England faces a return to the "winter of our discontent".

Olivier does correct one of Shakespeare's inaccuracies by removing the character of Queen Margaret who, at the time of the events depicted, would either have been in exile, or dead. This, however, was probably an inadvertent by-product of Olivier's cutting the original text to produce something more suited to the cinema. On the stage "Richard III" can be a rather unwieldy play, with a full production lasting up to four hours; at just under three hours the film is already considerably longer than the average fifties feature film.

Unlike some more recent productions of the play, most notably Richard Loncraine's film from 1995 which updates the story to the 1930s and quite deliberately portrays Richard as a fascist-style dictator, Olivier does not attempt to draw parallels- at least not explicit ones- between Shakespeare's story and modern politics. (Of course, one could argue that those parallels are still there because Shakespeare understood the essential psychology underlying fascism and communism long before either ideology formally existed). Like Olivier's Henry V, the film is shot in vivid colour and attempts to reproduce the visual splendour of the Middle Ages with authentic period costumes. Most of it was shot on stylised Gothic sets in the studio, although the final scenes depicting the Battle of Bosworth Field were for some reason filmed on location in a region of Spain that looks nothing like Leicestershire.

Olivier's Richard is not just a pantomime villain; he is also a consummate hypocrite, able to be all things to all men as the occasion demands, so Olivier has to call upon the full range of his acting skills to play the parts of loyal brother, ardent lover and man of the people as well as ranting tyrant. Although Olivier plays him with a limp, Richard's disabilities are not as evident as in some productions, so his speeches lamenting his "misshapen body" seem more like self-pity than genuine complaints. Olivier dominates the play, but there are other good contributions, especially from John Gielgud as Clarence (a far more sympathetic figure than the treacherous drunkard of legend) and Claire Bloom in the thankless role of Lady Anne, Richard's wife, who should have every cause to hate him but who inexplicably marries him.

The film was not a great box-office success when first released in 1955, particularly in America where its prospects were harmed by the curious decision to broadcast it on American television on the day that it opened at the cinema. That relative failure ended Olivier's series of Shakespearean dramas; a film of "Macbeth" scheduled for 1957 had to be cancelled when Olivier was unable to secure the necessary funding. (That must be one of the great unmade films of cinema history!) Today, however, its reputation seems secure as a classic, at least as good as the Oscar-winning "Henry V" which was much-praised upon its release. Olivier's performance as Richard, portraying him as (in the words of the historian Professor Richard Harrison) that "slit-eyed, snaky, deformed embodiment of evil" has passed into legend; for many people it has become (to the disgust of the king's modern apologists, and he has many) the definitive image of King Richard III. 8/10

Some goofs. As stated above, a number of key scenes are switched from spring/summer to winter. I have no quarrel with this change, which was done for good artistic reasons, but Olivier should have cut that line about "strawberries" which in the fifteenth century would not have been available out of season. Some of the heraldic banners are incorrect; Lord Stanley, as King of Man, would indeed have been entitled to quarter the Manx arms with his own, but the Manx "three legs" symbol should appear on a red background, not a blue one as here. And Richard III never used the arms attributed to him of a white boar between four white roses on a red shield.
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The Glorious Summer of the Sun of York
theowinthrop7 January 2006
It was Olivier's production of HENRY V that led to his showing what a creative producer/director of film he could be. His Oscar came from his "Freudian" interpretation of HAMLET. But I suspect that most people would say his greatest Shakespearean film (both as star and director) was this one - his performing the greatest villainous role in the English language, King RICHARD III.

One can carp about the historical accuracy of RICHARD III from now until doomsday. That monarch was attacked by two of England's leading literary figures: Sir Thomas More (who is also a political/religious martyr), and Shakespeare. In comparison only two literary figures of any consequence ever defended him: Horace Walpole (the 18th Century diarist and letter writer - best recalled, if at all, for his Gothic novel THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO) and Josephine Tey, the dramatist and mystery novelist who wrote a detective story, THE DAUGHTER OF TIME, to defend him. More, a Tudor government official (eventually Lord Chancellor, before he fell from official favor) was close to one of Richard's foes, Cardinal Morton, and so accepted Morton's stories about Richard's murderous guilt. He wrote a HISTORY OF RICHARD III. Shakespeare, to keep official favor with the court, had to placate it with it's glorification of Henry VII, and vilification of the monarch who Henry defeated and killed. Walpole, a student of 18th Century skepticism and scholarship, wrote SOME QUESTIONS REGARDING RICHARD III, which point by point debated the so-called crimes Richard committed. Walpole, however, also was convinced that the pretender, Perkins Warbeck (executed 1499) was actually the younger one of the two Princes in the Tower. Tey used her gifts as a mystery novelist to examine the case as an intellectual puzzle for a recuperating Inspector Adam Grant in the novel. But she is basing her views on work done up to about 1935 or so, especially the Life of Richard III by the exploration historian Sir Clement Markhams. Today we realize more information from contemporary documents have come out. The balanced view is that Richard is truly a usurper (but this was par for the political course of 1483, especially after all of the blood and plotting of the War of the Roses). However, his actual planning of the deaths of Henry VI and his son, of George, Duke of Clarence, of Lords Rivers, Grey, and Hastings, and of his two nephews has never been conclusively shown (it could have been his one time ally the Duke of Buckingham, or his enemy Henry, Earl of Richmond/Henry VII, or even Cardinal Morton!).

But without a dramatist or novelist of Shakespeare's stature, we are left with only Shakespeare's Richard - the finest example of a Machiavellian monarch on stage. So it is that the role can never be played poorly, unless by some stupid concept thrown in by a director (witness Richard Dreyfus's having to play Richard as an over-the-top homosexual in THE GOODBYE GIRLS due to Paul Benedict's idiot scheme of production). An example of the universality of the role was shown by Sir Ian McKellan's version a decade ago, set in the 1930s, suggesting Richard as a potential Fascist leader of Great Britain (complete with his "Hog" symbol used in place of a swastika). That film version too was wonderful.

Olivier is ably assisted by his cast of Richardson, Guilgud, Baker, Hardwicke, Bloom, and the others who show what happens when a power-hungry monster is allowed to divide and conquer his opponents, and then seize total power. There are moments in the film where Olivier's real personality comes out in frightening intensity. One is where he is playing with the two nephews, and when one teasingly refers to his humpback, the camera and lighting shows an intense hatred and anger rising from his eyes (the boys, by the way, notice it and cower). The other is the point when Richard decides to rein in his erstwhile ally in his rise, Buckingham (Richardson) who is at court to present his request for some payment for his assistance. Richard shouts impatiently "I'm not in the giving mood today!", and crashes his scepter down narrowly missing Buckingham's hand. The Duke notices this, and soon is off on his ill-fated rebellion.

RICHARD III was a first rate film - in my opinion it may be the best filmed version of a Shakespeare play made before 1980. It is regrettable that,whatever the reason, Olivier never directed another Shakespearean film (he planned at least one I would have been interested in - CORIOLANUS - which never got beyond the stage production). So enjoy the three we have, and his performances in the films OTHELLO and AS YOU LIKE IT, and the television versions of his THE MERCHANT OF VENICE and KING LEAR. It's all we'll ever have.
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The best Shakespearean performance on film
MOscarbradley29 April 2019
It may not be the best film of a Shakespeare play but surely there is no better Shakespearean performance on film than Laurence Olivier's "Richard III". He had already done "Henry V" and "Hamlet" on screen, winning Oscars for both, (an Honorary one for his "Henry V"), but 'Richard ...' was always considered the lesser, more fanciful play with an Elizabethan Godfather in charge yet Olivier made it his own, creating a Richard by which all others would be judged.

It's less 'cinematic' than either "Henry V" or "Hamlet", (the sets look like sets), but here 'the play's the thing' and Olivier cast it perfectly. Knights Gielgud and Hardwicke are quickly dispatched as Clarence and Edward but Ralph Richardson is a magnificently malevolent Buckingham, Mary Kerridge, a magnificent Queen Elizabeth and Claire Bloom, a sublime Lady Anne. It is also one of the most accessible of all Shakespeare adaptations; Shakespeare for those who don't like Shakespeare and a 'thriller' that genuinely thrills.
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Excellent Version of the Play, With Olivier & More
Snow Leopard22 January 2002
This excellent production of "Richard III" features a terrific performance by Laurence Olivier in the lead role, plus a fine supporting cast, good color photography, and plenty of color and pageantry to set off the action. Richard III can be one of Shakespeare's most entertaining plays when it is done well, and this version does full justice to this classic play. It's especially enjoyable if you get the restored widescreen version.

Olivier is unsurpassed at performing Shakespeare, keeping the balance between giving life to his characters while making sure that they remain part of the play as a whole, rather than drawing all the attention to himself. This might be the best of all his screen Shakespearean roles, since Richard gives him so much to work with, and also because he has such an accomplished supporting cast to complement his own performance. Playing Richard gives him a chance to be charming, devious, tyrannical, and more, and the role offers some choice solo speeches plus other scenes that have excellent give-and-take with the other characters.

The rest of the cast also deserves praise. Ralph Richardson is ideally cast as Buckingham, a character who is so important both to the plot and also to showing us what Richard himself is all about. The rest of the cast includes good performances from Cedric Hardwicke, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, and others. Olivier's adaptation/revision of the script also works pretty well, maintaining the feel of the play while often highlighting scenes that make for particularly good cinema. It all makes this just what a movie version of Shakespeare should be.
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The final play in a trilogy (sort of)
The-Sarkologist29 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Apparently this movie flopped at the box office, which is why this was allegedly the last of Sir Lawrence Olivier's Shakespearian films. There is nothing necessarily bad about this film (though I might be considered a heretic for saying this, but the 'now is the winter of our discontent' soliloquy did seem to be a little stilted and lacked the passion and emotion one would expect from such as speech, though of course there is such a thing as over acting, and that is something that I doubt Olivier would do).

This is sort of one of those films where the first scene does captivate you, and it is the coronation of the king, and we see everybody focus on the king, yet Richard glances back at the camera with that evil look in his eye which suggests that he is up to something and that he is not going to rest until he gets what he wants. I do suspect that we are all familiar (I hope) with this story, about an ambitious prince who manipulates his way to the top, but when there does not reward any of his peers, and ends up being killed after falling from his horse in the battle of Bodsworth Feild.

The funny thing I do find about this play is that technically it is the final play in the trilogy set around the War of the Roses. The first two plays deal with the wars themselves, and this one begins after the war has ended, and it appears that the throne is secure in the hands of the House of York, except that there are elements within the house of York that are not happy with their position and want more.

It is true that this play is based on real events, but in a way Shakespeare seems to also be reminding his audiences of the problems that arise out of civil wars. It is suggested that the plays were originally written at a time when there was a conspiracy against the throne of Queen Elizabeth, and in a sense it was reminding the people of England of their recent history and the dangers that would arise if a legitimate ruler were to be overthrown in a coup, and it is not as if Richard was the one doing the overthrowing, but rather he assisted in the initial coup, and once that had been completed, as it turns out the new King was not all that secure in his position anyway, namely because one of his supporters (Richard) was wanting the throne for himself.

It should be noted that in this play there are references to the events in the previous play, such as the scene where Richard is not so much wooing his wife, but making his intentions known as she mourns over the body of her late husband. This was one of the events from the previous play. We also note that the play begins with a coronation, but as it happens, this is a coronation brought out by conquest rather than inheritance. To me, it would seem like only showing Return of the Jedi despite the fact that there are two other films before it.
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So popular yet so boring.
jacobjohntaylor14 June 2016
This is nothing but an evil prince taking about what he is going to do. Or what he has already done. That not all of the movie. But that is most of the movie. I know people love this movie. I was disappointed. This not a well written movie. It is not a 7.6. It is just hype. And that is all it is. This is a very boring movie. I know it is popular. I do not care. The story line is awful. William Shakespeare was a good writer. This is not one of his best. This is a very boring movie. Do not waste your time. And do not waste your money. Do not see this movie. It is just boring. I need more lines. And I am running out of things to say.
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I never realised Shakespeare could be so much fun
tomgillespie200221 November 2014
Very few actors and director's have the skill to bring William Shakespeare's work to life. The transition from stage to screen can prove difficult, especially when wrestling with the Bard's complex word-play and trying to make a movie that feels like a movie and not simply a filmed stage performance. No-one has succeeded as well as Laurence Olivier, here trimming one of Shakespeare's most wickedly entertaining plays to it's bare necessities, and delivering a fascinating performance to boot. Despite his high esteem, I've always found Olivier's acting to be somewhat hammy. But his hunchbacked, sneering monster is the definitive Richard III, combining his character's heinous acts with a devilish smirk.

A lot has been written about Olivier the actor, but clearly not enough about Olivier the director. Though his Shakespeare adaptations can often feel stagy, he wasn't afraid of taking narrative risks. His magnificent Henry V (1944) began with actors preparing to perform the play in front of a theatre audience, before go into full-movie mode. Richard III begins with Olivier breaking the fourth wall and delivering his gleefully atrocious plans to camera, boasting of his strategy to usurp his brother King Edward IV (Cedric Hardwicke), but not before ridding himself of his other sibling George (John Gielgud). He seduces the widow of the man he slew during the War of the Roses, Lady Anne (Claire Bloom), and conspires with his cousin the Duke of Buckingham (the astonishing Ralph Richardson).

Shot in wonderful Technicolor and opting for minimalist set design, Richard III is a treat for the eyes. But the true delight is the cast - a smorgasbord of British thespian talent - who deliver Shakespeare's poetic prose as if they talk it in their sleep. This is a tale of greed, paranoia and blood, told with a jet-black sense of humour, and Richard is one of Shakespeare's greatest creations. Disgruntled at being born lame and deformed without being compensated for his sufferings - you just have to sit back and marvel as he tricks and murders his way to the throne, turning to regicide and infanticide with a smile on his face. Olivier is clearly having a ball, and this is truly his show. I never realised Shakespeare could be so much fun.
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Tweetienator26 February 2021
Great movies of past times, adapting classic works like Shakespeare's Richard III are proof to the fact how much the quality in acting and movie-making has declined, especially in this new millennia. It is really a relieve to watch such movies that provide great entertainment combined with art, instead of drowning everything in violence, some nudity and that all present woky-pc-whatever stuff. Richard III is a fine piece of a play, put into motion pictures, supported by great settings, colors and last but not least, an excellent cast. Laurence Olivier's Richard III is still an essential piece to every lover of Shakespeare's game, and will stand the test of time, while all those mass products of zeitgeist will be forgotten fast.
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Lacking in the usual Shakespearean subtlety, tenderness, and spiritual depth
howard.schumann29 August 2005
Richard III (1452-1485) was the last king in the Plantagenet dynasty that had ruled England since 1154. He was also the last English king to die in battle but he is remembered more as a man of unparalleled villainy and treachery as depicted in the play of William Shakespeare. His portrayal by Sir Laurence Olivier in the 1955 film version of Richard III] has left a lasting impression of a bitter, crippled, and deformed man who murdered Henry VI, Henry's son Edward, his brother Clarence, and his nephews Edward and Richard, although the historical truth remains in doubt. The performance by Sir Laurence Olivier was to be the last of his three Shakespearean performances (Hamlet, Henry V). Though likely intentional, I found it to be a manic, one-dimensional caricature that robs Richard of any semblance of humanity.

The film depicts the events leading up to the crowning of Richard III in 1483, beginning with a disclaimer that the film is part history and part legend but it doesn't say which part is which. Shot mostly inside the castle, by modern standards, its style is dated and uncinematic. The opening scene is the coronation of Edward IV, lifted from the final scene of Shakespeare's "Henry VI: Part III". It is here that the director introduces the king (Cedric Hardwicke) and queen (Mary Kerridge), their two young sons, Gloucester (Olivier) and brother Clarence (John Gielgud), his cousin Buckingham (Sir Ralph Richardson) and his friend Hastings (Alec Cunes). Under Olivier's direction, Richard talks directly to the audience starting with the famous soliloquy "This is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this son of York". In this monologue, Richard of Gloucester, a gruesome looking figure with a deformed shoulder, a withered hand, and a hook nose announces his plans to overthrow his brother, the present King Edward IV.

Interestingly, Winston Churchill noted that none of Richard's contemporaries ever said anything about the king being deformed and one suspects that it may be the author's way of lampooning Robert Cecil, a hunchback who was an unscrupulous power broker during Queen Elizabeth's last years. Convincing King Edward that his brother, the Duke of Clarence, is after the crown he engineers Clarence's removal to the Tower where he is quickly disposed of, first by stabbing then by being immersed in a barrel of wine. Richard's goal is even closer when Edward is taken seriously ill. Needing a queen, he woos Lady Anne (Claire Bloom) who agrees to marry him even though fully aware that Richard had murdered both her husband and King Henry. Because his claim to the throne is tenuous, the killing does not stop and Richard has the king's two boys imprisoned and suffocated in the Tower and murders Queen Anne.

After the killing spree leaves London in upheaval, a group of citizens comes to Baynard Castle to request that Richard accept the crown to bring peace to the troubled land. After some initial unconvincing resistance, Tricky Dick finally relents and is crowned King Richard III. This event, however, does not stop young Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, from claiming the throne with strong popular support and a major battle takes place in Bosworth Field as armies of Richard and Henry gather in August of 1485 to settle the issue. After 165 scenes involving thirty featured players, forty actors in bit parts, and hundreds of crowd artists, the film is brought to a rousing conclusion. Richard's defeat and the succession of the Tudor dynasty brought to an end the Wars of the Roses and is marked as a turning point in English history, dividing the medieval from the modern era.

Shakespeare's play, based on Tudor sources, is an astute propaganda piece whose principal goal in the words of author Mark Anderson was to "legitimize Queen Elizabeth and her house of Tudor by celebrating the Tudor regime's first victory - the deposition of Richard III by Henry Tudor in 1485." The play has an antecedent in the anonymous "The True History of Richard III" first performed by the Queen's Men in 1589, which in its final scene heaps praise on the Tudor queen. It is one of Shakespeare's most popular works but, for me, it is lacking in the usual Shakespearean subtlety, tenderness, and spiritual depth. Perhaps viewing a different performance might allow me to appreciate the work a good deal more.
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One of the great Shakespeare films
MissSimonetta19 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This 1955 adaptation of Richard III is one of the most visually appealing pieces of 1950s cinema.

Olivier's direction is fantastic. He remembers well that this is cinema, not theater, so you never get the sense that you are watching a recorded stage play. He utilizes a lot of match cuts to transition between scenes, which allows one scene to flow beautifully into the next. The sets and costumes are all colorful, giving off the vibe of a medieval tapestry or a Book of Hours. It's such a contrast to the way modern films depict the middle ages, caking everything in dirt and shooting it with dim lighting schemes. Sir William Walton's score is rousing and majestic. I especially love his leitmotif for Lady Anne, which is melancholy in comparison with the otherwise bombastic main theme.

Some have criticized Olivier's performance as too "hammy" and there are times when I can see where they are coming from (Richard's expressionistic writhing on the ground after he is fatally wounded is likely to incite laughter from a modern audience unused to any kind of acting other than the Method). However, I think his grand approach works for the evil yet charismatic character he is playing. Another performance which is oft criticized is Ralph Richardson's Buckingham, who is seen as being too sympathetic, not evil enough. I thought he did a fine job myself. Richardson never plays it like this character is someone admirable; Buckingham is still slimy and ambitious, just as he is in the text. Perhaps Orson Welles (whom Olivier originally wanted for the role) would have done better, but I think Richardson does just fine.

All of the other actors do great, but I wanted to single out Claire Bloom as the tragic Lady Anne Neville, who is seduced and later murdered by Richard. Her Anne is magnificent and enigmatic, and the viewer is left wanting more of her.

Olivier cuts up much of the text, but I found the only unfortunate cut was the elimination of the fearful soliloquy Richard has after he dreams of the ghosts of his victims. It is the only time we see any remorse from Richard and it is one of the play's most haunting moments. It's such a shame Olivier cut it out, as it makes Richard a much richer character.

But no matter. That does not kill this movie, which remains one of the best cinematic Shakespeare adaptations.
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An actor for eternity.
ulicknormanowen11 October 2021
Recently restored with beautiful colors, the movie will allow everyone to watch outstanding Sir Laurence Olivier in his mind-boggling performance forever ; the cast around him is the creme de la creme of British actors, and all of them should be mentioned; I would simply say that Sir Olivier marvelously directed his children-actors in their small parts .This is a must.
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Sportive Tricks With Sir Larry's Tricky Dick
slokes13 March 2005
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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Very Few Things Are Superior To This.
Movie-ManDan9 November 2014
Laurence Olivier garner the reputation as the greatest actor of the 20th century. However, he was not very fond of film acting, calling "an inferior medium." On film, Olivier did some performances that were not very good. I thought he sucked in The Merchant of Venice. I thought he was bad in some parts in Rebecca. But there were some instances where he was at the level of his stage acting. He was awesome in Marathon Man, he owned Henry V, and his Hamlet is still the best portrayal and the best Shakespeare movie ever made. Thing is, his version of Hamlet was heavily condensed. If he included more parts, everyone would agree that his Hamlet was the best movie and portrayal. Luckily, his Richard III makes up for it. Hamlet and Richard III are the hardest characters to play and Olivier nails both, but is slightly better in this. Richard III follows a man that does all he can to become king, be it murder, extortion, framing, robbery. But he is also supposed to be a sympathetic and admirable character. How a character can be evil and likable is what makes him so interesting and so hard to play. Olivier does it to a T. There are moments in the film where Richard speaks to the camera looking deep into it with a freaky look on his face as if he is about to kill you. The opening soliloquy is enough to make the viewer uncomfortable. Olivier must have done this many times on the stage. Now, you can see just how good Olivier was on stage by watching this. Very, very, very few film performances are superior to Olivier as Richard III.

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Shakespeare straight up
Spuzzlightyear1 September 2005
Well, this is the first Shakespeare movie I've seen that was done by Sir Laurence, he's done others of course, and probably was the first actor to seriously take a shining to filming the Bard's works, before Branaugh, Pacino et al. Richard III is of course about one of the more despicable Kings in Shakespeare history, killing men, women and children to get to his throne and stay there.

Olivier is fabulous in this role, looking exactly like a crow, he is stubborn, cruel, selfish and barbaric, and Olivier seems to be having a ball reenacting this play for the screen. Unfortunately, except for the end part where we thankfully go outside, this whole thing feels way to stagey, with minimal props and lots of dialogue, this suffers from too much belief that 'The Play's The Thing' unfortunately.

Also features a rare glimpse of Olivier and John Gielgud together in one scene, for those of you convinced they're the same person.
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