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United Kingdom 1955
Directed by
Laurence Olivier
161 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Richard III

Shakespeare’s Richard III is one of the great villains of English literature and The Bard's play gives full scope to a histrionic thespian to display his wares. It is rather curious then that Laurence Olivier, despite truncating Shakespeare’s text to focus more on Richard plays him with such restraint. Certainly he is a treacherous, Machiavellian figure and we feel no empathy for him but somehow, as in his famous “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech there is lack of torment which seems necessary to drive anyone to such evil.

The last of Olivier’s three film transpositions of Shakespeare’s plays (the others being Hamlet in 1948 and Henry V in 1944) it is also the most theatre-like. Olivier cleverly combines the heightened visual range of the cinema with the artifice of the stage, carefully setting his scenes and scenes-within-scenes in their architectural frames and contrasting their often colour-coded costumes against neutral backgrounds (he used the same production designer and costume designer as for Henry V).

Although I must admit that with The Bard’s historical works I struggle with the many characters’ relationships, having a hard enough time deciphering the antique language let alone being able to follow which Duke’s cousin is banding with which Earl to take up arms against which uncle… you get my drift...all of which taketh away from my enjoyment in the skulduggery. If this doesn’t phase you and you want to some of Britain’s leading actors including John Gielgud as Clarence, Ralph Richardson as Buckingham (Olivier is on record as saying that he wasn’t slimy enough), Cedric Hardwicke as Edward IV and Stanley Baker as the Earl of Richmond, then this is for you.




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