Richard III (1955, Laurence Olivier)

Poor crouched Richard (Olivier) sees his brother Edward become king of England, resolves to do something about it. Before Richard in line to the throne is his brother Clarence (John Gielgud), whom he imprisons in the tower and then has assassin Michael Gough (The Horse’s Mouth) murder, then basically guilts the sitting king (Cedric Hardwicke of Suspicion) to his death thinking he’d ordered his own son killed. In the midst of these plots, Richard finds time to relentlessly chase and finally marry the Prince of Wales’s widow Anne (Claire Bloom, Hera in Clash of the Titans), who then mostly disappears from the movie. Next in line: Richard’s young nephew Edward V (Paul Clunes, 12 at the time, a TV writer/producer in the 1980’s), whom Richard cajoles into the tower and has killed. Richard’s cousin Buckingham (prominently-schnozzed Ralph Richardson of The Holly and the Ivy) helps him gain favor to be crowned king, then flees when he finds out about all the murdering, but is soon captured (and murdered) within the span of a single scene. All this murder reminds me of Kind Hearts and Coronets. Finally we break out of the castle, snooze through a talky dream sequence then get a nice battlefield scene vs. golden-wigged Henry (Stanley Baker of Losey’s Eva and Accident) and balding traitor Lord Stanley (Laurence Naismith, Fezziwig in Albert Finney’s Scrooge).

A. Taubin on Olivier: “The echo of Hitler in his vocal delivery was deliberate; the atmosphere of paranoia and the violence and rampant betrayals attendant on Richard’s rise to power struck a nerve. . . Olivier gives us a murderous, fanatical protagonist, legendary in history and all too familiar in the modern world.”

Written in the 1590’s and set in the 1480’s. Alexander Korda’s final production, shot by Otto Heller (Peeping Tom). In adapting from the play, Olivier cut half the women’s parts and borrowed scenes from Henry VI. This is known as one of the best-ever Shakespeare adaptations. It wouldn’t make my top five, though I admit the costumes are mighty colorful and elegant. It’s mostly dudes speaking inscrutably on expansive sets – long and hard to follow and no fun.

Related posts