Those who criticize Laurence Olivier and Alan Dent -- co-authors of the screenplay -- for taking certain liberties with Shakespeare's play should also criticize Shakespeare for taking certain liberties with the historical material on which he often relied so heavily. In this instance, Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, Vol. 6, and various Tudor Historians. In my opinion, such quibbling is a fool's errand. This much we do know about the historical Richard III. He was born in 1452 in Fotheringay Castle, Northamptonshire, the youngest son of Richard, Duke of York. He was created Duke of Gloucester by his brother, Edward IV, in 1461, accompanied him into exile (1470), and played a key role in his restoration (1471). Rewarded with part of the Neville inheritance, he exercised vice regal powers, and in 1482 re-captured Berwick-upon-Tweed from the Scots. When Edward died (1483) and was succeeded by his under-age son, Edward V, Richard acted first as protector, but within three months, he had overthrown the Woodvilles (relations of Edward IV's queen), arranged for the execution of Lord Hastings (c.1430-83), and had himself proclaimed and crowned as the rightful king. Young Edward and his brother were probably murdered in the Tower on Richard's orders, although not all historians agree. He tried to stabilize his position but failed to win broad-based support. His rival Henry Tudor (later Henry VII), confronted him in battle at Bosworth Field (August 22, 1485), when Richard died fighting bravely against heavy odds. Though ruthless, he was not the absolute monster Tudor historians portrayed him to be, nor is there proof he was a hunchback.
Cleverly, this film begins with the final scene of Henry IV, Part III, the coronation of Edward IV (Cedric Hardwicke). Locating himself at a strategic distance from the throne, the Duke of Gloucester (Olivier) carefully observes those around him. He shares with those who see this film or read the play his most private thoughts and feelings, many of which are as deformed as his body. Gloucester's "winter of discontent" will soon end. With a systematic tenacity unsurpassed by any other of Shakespeare's villains, Gloucester's coronation as Richard III (his own "glorious summer") will be the fulfillment of his royal ambition. The acting throughout the cast is outstanding. I do not recall another film in which Olivier, John Gielgud (George. Duke of Clarence), and Ralph Richardson (Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham) all appeared together, joined by Claire Bloom (Lady Anne Neville) and Stanley Baker (Henry Tudor). Special note should also be made of Otto Heller's cinematography which is integrated seamlessly with their performances. It is a pleasure to have this film now available in a DVD format, one which offers much sharper images and much clearer sound. Other special features of this DVD version include high-definition digital transfer; newly discovered footage; a commentary by playwright and stage director Russell Lees and John Wilder, former Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company; 1966 BBC interview with Olivier hosted by Kenneth Tynan; a 12-minute television trailer; a theatrical trailer; and an essay by film historian Bruce Eder.
on April 29, 2001
Only two of Orson Welles' Shakespeare films rival "Richard III" for the title of greatest Shakespeare movie ever made. That said, Olivier's film may contain the most sheerly enjoyable performance any actor gave on film. His Duke of Gloucester is the definitive performance. Elia Kazan once said Olivier had a certain girlish quality, and that quality is used in the film: His Richard is seductive--a prancing, charming monster whose voice sounds like "honey mixed with razor blades." But one look into his black eyes, framed by false hawk nose, violently angled eyebrows and fright pageboy wig, will tell you that he's also stone-cold pure evil. Richard enacts all our homicidal, plotting fantasies as he cheerfully knocks off all his stuffy relatives and rivals.
Olivier emphasizes the black comedy and wittiness of Shakespeare's play, which he cut and refashioned into a star vehicle for himself. Though Sirs Gielgud, Richardson and Hardwicke co-star, they don't make much of an impression. (Blame that on Shakespeare too) Interestingly, Olivier later regretted not having cast Orson Welles as Buckingham.
You experience two major innovations concerning the filming of Shakespeare: the first is Olivier's old custom of using extremely stylized, artificial sets, thereby making Shakespeare's stylized, artificial verse fit in with the settings. The second is the source of Olivier's triumph: he delivers his soliloquys directly to the camera. This daring move destroys the fourth wall and takes true advantage of what the movies offer. He becomes our friend and confidante and we become complicit in his mounting evil. The production values are top-notch: we get deliriously vibrant technicolour, William Walton's pompous, irresistible music of pageantry, and the book-of-hours sets. And through those sets Olivier's camera subtly glides and skulks like the snake Richard himself is. Olivier is still an underrated director, and his grasp of the frame's spatial properties is excellent: he knew how to move the camera into and out of the frame for maximum impact. For an example, look at the moment Richard finally becomes King, and his satanic powers become unbottled: He slides down the bell rope to greet his minions, and expecting to shake his hand they approach, only to fall on their knees when Richard silently demands they kiss it. As they sink downward, the camera flees backward until the awful composition is complete, with half a dozen men in black on their knees as Richard presides all in the center of the frame: on twisted and bent legs as the bells announce the triumph of evil.
on August 17, 2006
No one could rival Laurence Olivier (Hamlet, Henry V, Richard III) as the scheming, ruthless youngest son of the 3rd Duke of York, who stopped at nothing to be King Richard III. His first appearance was deceptive. I noticed only a big nose and recognized him only after he spoke. Burdened with a crooked back, limp and shrunk hand, his ambition for kingship only burnt more feverishly. With disguised humbleness, he made peace with other royalties. His words were sugar-coated and gay. He killed Warwick, the 'KingMaker' who helped enthrone his elder brother as King Edward IV, and wooed Warwick's daughter Anne(the beautiful Claire Bloom) to marry him shortly after killing her husband. His planned murders of his elder brother Duke of Clarence, Lord Hastings, his young nephews (heirs-to-be), his wife Anne made even today's politics pale and unexciting.
Yet the movie about such a dark character was beautiful in VistaColour, set and costumes, cinematography. Scenes of executions, naïve Lord Hastings (Alec Clunes) walking into his death trap, innocent heirs-to-be greeting uncle Richard and Richard's final battle are memorable. All the other characters exuded integraity, royality and humanity. They were handsome in appearance and noble in heart, so different from Richard III. Even the once accomplice Duke of Buckingham (Ralph Richardson), without whose help there would be no Richard III, showed a moment of caution in doing any more evil. Perhaps it's this great contrast between Richard and everyone else that made the movie luring and tragic. In his last battle of Bosworth Field, Laurence Olivier showed a more reflective and human side of Richard III. When nearly everything on his side was lost, he marched, with a handful of supporters including his royal page (Stewart Allen), and fought valiantly.
The movie also succeeded in its clarity and fluidity. The powerplay of an excellent cast of experienced actors with great screen presence made 155 minutes fly without notice. With no prior knowledge of the Wars of Roses (House of York vs House of Lancaster), I am not at all lost in the many characters and relationship. And the crowning of Henry Tudor, 2nd Earl of Richmond, as Henry VII marked the beginning of the most filmed Tudor dynasty - a perfect prologue of films about the lives of Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth.
on April 16, 2015
This is a tremendous bargain. The Blu-ray version is sharper, clearer, more colorful and perfect than any version you will see in the cinema or on TV (unless they are using this Blu-ray). It has been expertly, lovingly transcribed from the original negative,not from a worn out cinema print. And each frame has been repaired and revived. The bonus extras include an explanation of this process and a 1960s Ken Tynan (highly revealing) interview with Laurence Olivier. Then there is the play itself. Olivier worked tirelessly to develop a cinematic version of his theatrical chef d'oeuvre, reducing the grotesque nose length and speaking direct to camera (instead of to an entire theatre) in a way that was adopted decades later by Ian Richardson as the villainous Francis Urquhart, and, two more decades later, by Kevin Spacey in the epigone American series. Shakespeare's juvenile offering is of course a masterpiece of political propaganda, demonizing the last English king to die in battle and deliberately omitting his achievements, which include the first glimmerings of legal aid and the presumption of innocence. As Duke of Gloucester, Richard has his brother drowned in a butt of malmsey, apparently only because he stands between Richard and the crown. In fact, the Duke of Clarence had taken part in two rebellions against their brother, King Edward. Shakespeare, as an actor and writer with The Queen's Players, presumably felt it natural to show the ruling Tudors as putative deities, and Richmond (the future King Henry VII) is accordingly portrayed as such at the end of the film. Olivier's performance as the persuasive, devious pantomime villain is a delight. His utterance of "I am not in the giving vein" to Buckingham, which Olivier spent much effort in perfecting, is the crux of the whole play, and sounds like it. In the unlikely event that you are not a Shakespear enthusiast, just watch this film for the costumes, whose color and texture radiate in the excellent picture quality.
on August 9, 2001
Ah, but is it really HIS kingdom, this stolen crown of England? Shakespeare's ultimate justification of the Tudor claim to the throne, "Richard III" is one of the orginal villains you just love to hate. Laurence Olivier struts his humpbacked stuff as the murderous Richard, Duke of Glouchester, plotting to get the crown for himself, even if it means killing off just about everyone related to him to do it, including the two little princes in the Tower. Olivier is joined in this movie by two old cronies, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, and together the trio show us Yanks what British theatre was like at its best. Watch and learn.
on May 5, 2002
A masterpiece! This contains most of it's actors finest performances of their career. Ralph Richardson, is far from his usual cuddly, highly comical performance (which is a little bit too mean on a fine very capable actor), we really get a sense of what Ralph must have been like at Shakespeare. John gielgud also delivers a fine performance, it is one of his best for this period in his career although i felt he was much better in his later years. I think the thorn in the film is undoubtedly the performance from Claire Bloom, I found her unconvincing as the seduced Lady Anne. Olivier's direction and tweaking was lthough not as original as Mckellen's Richard, was nevertheless inspired!
Well i have left the best till last and that was Olivier's performance itself, The man is a genius, the very way he coaxes you in is magic, it feels like he is takng your hand and making you a part of his conspiracy. It feels like he is right there with you sniggering. It is hard to believe that the man is 50 years behind you. You are on his side right the way through the film, it is a rare experiance to b so truly enraptured, in love with such a villain. His Death scene is history making, it is so tragic, you feel so sorry for him which is certainly not what you are suppose to feel for a man who has supposedly killed his brother and 2 nephews and has basically murdered his way to the top, but nevertheless Olivier has once again put a new perspective on the bard's work.
on September 29, 2015
With the recent discovery of King Richard the 3rds bones there has been a lot of debate as to whether or not he could have been England's last warrior King. I saw a great documentary where they had a young man with Spinal Scoliosis under take the rigors of combat in full armor & everyone was surprised at how capable he was, his biggest disadvantage was fighting on foot because his condition limited his oxygen intake making him fatigue more quickly than a person not afflicted with this condition. knowing this adds even more impact to Shakespeare's prose "My Kingdom for a horse!"
on February 20, 2007
I have noticed that it is fashionable in some circles (particularly in the 'acting community') to be highly critical of Laurence Olivier and his interpretation of Shakespeare... While I have no credentials to speak of myself, I find these sorts of criticisms to be misplaced and they tend to unfairly take on Olivier without considering his times - Olivier was something of an outsider in his approach to Shakespeare - and the task of transfering his ideas of shakespeare into a rigid studio film (which nevertheless Olivier brilliantly succeeded in doing) would put Olivier right into a very vulerable place for an actor/director to be in.. Olivier was a believer in the human aspects of Shakespeare - he radically saw the possibility of a modern shakespeare - a shakespeare one could consider alongside the advent of modern psycohology and literature.. a sort of Freudian Shakespeare.. Now that Freud is also out of fashion it is easy to judge.. But the most important thing Olivier did had nothing to do with theories - he brought shakespeare to a larger audience - he made shakespeare more accessible.. He also did something only the best actors can do - he put his own personal stamp on the character of Richard III..His Richard is a serpentine feminine richard.. You clearly see a man who suffers within his body and mirrors this malace on to the world he confronts.. Olivier's Direction is also something remarkable - he combines the stage with celluloid in a way few have been able to manage... Criterion's transfer of this classic film is brilliantly crisp -you can't help but think of walt disney when you see this (or maybe powell and pressburger) - this is a perfectly legitimate portrayal of richard III and one that people will watch for years to come - what more could an actor achieve?
on October 26, 1999
On television the other day, I caught part of Al Pacino's close encounters of a Third kind i.e. a Richard III kind. If I recall correctly, someone in the Pacino piece said that Richard III is the most popular of Shakepeare's plays. If so, where is the DVD of the very best film of this play? It just cries out to be produced.
Olivier's performance is superb and will probably never be excelled. The play covers the gamut of human emotions from jealousy, deceit, love, loyalty, anger, sadness, etc. There is never a dull moment as the scenes are filmed in such a fluid and beautiful manner. This is a true classic film of one of the bard's greatest works!
on November 2, 2005
I had never seen a Shakespeare film with Laurence Olivier with him also directing . I already liked Shakespeare and had heard about this play . I took a chance on this expensive DVD and was very happy with it .
Apart from the incredible film , which has helpful subtitles , you have an interview with Olivier on the second disc .
The Shakespearian actor can be a bit haughty and snobby , thinking they are as important as the words they are saying .
Olivier comes across as very thoughtful and is pleasant to watch as he makes his way through his own career .
This DVD is good value , which is not always the case with Criterion titles .
If unsure , rent it first .
I still recommend it however .