115 years ago today, Laurence Olivier was born in Surrey. The son of a clergyman, Olivier would go on to become one of the greatest stage actors of the 20th Century. He would also have a distinguished film career, one that led to him frequently being described as being the world’s greatest living actor.
He is perhaps best-known for his Shakespearean performances. He won multiple Oscars for directing and starring in 1948’s Hamlet. Before his turn in Hamlet, he was similarly nominated for his film version of Henry V. That said, for me, his best cinematic Shakespearean performance was as Richard III in the 1953 film of the same title.
Though acclaimed, Richard III was not quite the Oscar favorite that Olivier’s previous two adaptations of Shakespeare had been. Henry V was released at a time when its portrayal of a determined British ruler could be viewed as a metaphor for the UK’s role in the second world war. Hamlet was released at a time when the world was still rebuilding and trying to adjust to the new atomic age and its dark, noirish style captured those anxieties. Richard III was released in the 50s, at a time when Americans perhaps weren’t as receptive to films that suggested that leaders should not be trusted. As a result, Richard III received only one nomination, for Olivier’s performance in the title role.
Today, in honor of his birthday, here is a scene that I love from 1953’s Richard III:
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