Richard III

Laurence Olivier plays a power-hungry outsider with a distinct physical feature and speech patterns whose ascension to power allows him to imprison his political enemies and ultimately leads to war.

There are no parallels.

Just kidding. Olivier based his portrayal of the title character in Richard III (1955) on Hitler, as he'd done when he first played the role in this Shakespearean play on stage in 1944. Surely there are no new lessons to be learnt from this.

Olivier also directs and adapted, and what a job he did at each. A fantastic job. The best job.

Or listen on iTunes.


We've seen Laurence Olivier nationalistic take on Shakespeare before in Henry V, but in Hamlet (1948) he runs a different approach, casting the moodier play in German Expressionism-like starkness. Like any filmed Shakespeare there's a lot of editing from the source material, but the end product is representative of the play, at least Olivier's interpretation of it. But that's how adaptations work, right?

The Peter O'Toole and Orson Wells discussion on Hamlet that we refer to can be seen here. It's a great chat from a group of people who really know what they're talking about but can't all agree.

Henry V

Laurence Olivier's 1944 propagandist (at the behest of Churchill himself) adaptation of Henry V is not only Olivier's first film directorial, it's also the first time in film history that an adaptation of one of Shakespeare's plays actually made money. It was nominated for four Academy Awards but only managed to garner Olivier an Honorary Oscar for "for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen." Honorary Oscars are, as you know, even more masturbatory than real Oscars, though that doesn't lessen Olivier's feat here. It's a fine production with a lot of smart choices behind it. If only Pat and Adam could make it through a Shakespearean History without losing focus.