Richard III Laurence Olivier

Olivier's other two Shakespeare films — Henry V (1944) and Hamlet (1948) — stand as major landmarks in film history, in Shakespearean history and even in 20th century British history. His third offering, Richard III (1955), is perhaps less of a cultural monument, but like the play itself, it has remained a favourite with audiences, featuring Shakespeare's most charming villain slyly killing a dozen odd family members to place himself on the throne. Here, Olivier takes considerable liberties with Shakespeare's script in order to make it as accessible as possible, and amidst all of his cuts and additions he loses sight of much of the depth of the play. Then again, Olivier's acting method always began by focusing first on superficial appearances (make-up, costume, hair) and only later exploring depth of character, working from the outside inwards. The end product is a very slick production, but one that manages to sell itself mainly by cutting out all of the challenging tangles that Shakespeare had left in its path — a method perhaps inspired by Richard himself. Still, this is a highly enjoyable film, well worth watching. The new Criterion release packages it beautifully, restoring Olivier's final cut with 20 minutes of lost footage and cleaning up the Technicolor and sound nicely. The extras here are outstanding: playwright Russell Lees provides one of the most carefully constructed and informative audio commentaries that I've ever heard, presenting nearly three hours of discussion about English history, Shakespearean dramaturgy, staging techniques, cinematography and a dozen other topics as well. Furthermore, a second disc presents a compelling hour-long BBC interview with Olivier from 1966 by theatre critic Kenneth Tyndale, where they examine the whole of his career, à la Inside the Actors Studio. This is another very impressive addition to the Criterion Collection. (Criterion/Morningstar)