Shakespeare Plays Available in Video Format
Scholars Online Educational Resources

Home

All’s Well That Ends Well
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Coriolanus
Cymbeline
Hamlet
Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
Julius Caesar
King John
King Lear
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Macbeth
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Othello
Pericles
Richard II
Richard III
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter’s Tale
Shakespeareana

Available versions

1911: Frank R. Benson

1912: André Calmettes, James Keane

1955: Laurence Olivier

1960: Michael Hayes

1983: Jane Howell

1995: Richard Longcraine

2008: Scott Anderson


Related

1994: Natalya Orlova (animated)

1996: Looking for Richard

2014: NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage


Richard III
1955: Laurence Olivier

This is one of the grand cinematic treatments of its day from Laurence Olivier at the height of his career and popularity. There’s a lot to admire here, and a lot to wince at. The cast list, however, is virtually a who’s who of A-list British classical actors from the period — in addition to Olivier’s Richard, there’s Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, and Cedric Hardwicke.

Olivier sought here to transform the play into a free-standing cinematic experience for modern audiences who were, in general, not as familiar with the historical background. He exercises a very free hand with the script. He freely admits that he has incorporated interpolated material from both the Henry VI plays (chiefly Part 3) and other bits provided by Colley Cibber (1671-1757, whose renditions of Shakespeare were pilloried even in his own day by Alexander Pope in the Dunciad). It is not always clear why he chose to resort to Cibber’s supplementary materials.

There is a vast range of acting styles present here, and they’re all worth watching (especially with the Criterion commentary), but of course any production of Richard III is going to ride primarily on its Richard. Olivier is at his most extreme: his Richard is slimy and evil and thoroughly (though histrionically) one-dimensional. He was accused of chewing scenery from time to time: if ever he earned the reputation, it’s here. Other productions can provide a useful corrective to this: but for what it is, this is a remarkably successful portrayal: there is no doubt from the start about whom one should cheer and whom one should hiss. Claire Bloom is radiant and young, but her portrayal of Anne is similarly rather flat and somewhat artificially encumbered by a managed vocal style that makes her less than credible. On the other hand, John Gielgud’s presentation of the Duke of Clarence may be the best version of that role ever recorded on film: he is singularly attuned to the music of Shakespeare’s language but at the same time lends the role a remarkable personal credibility. Similarly, Ralph Richardson’s Buckingham shows intelligence and subtlety, and may be the most enduringly interesting character in the whole piece.

The production values look somewhat dated from here, but it was for the time very much at the top of the heap. The sets are theatrical, rather than location scenery, but they are lavish and complex, and used to good effect. The costumes are not particularly accurate, but they are very striking. For those who are fans of such things, this film also features one of Sir William Walton’s greatest Shakespeare scores (the others being for Olivier’s Henry V and Hamlet). Some of the camera tricks and the like seem very dated: the dwelling on the menacing shadows; the shots through the opening doors, and so on, seem more artificial than informative. But (as all are) this is a document not just of Shakespeare’s work, but of its own day.

Olivier is also willing to supplement the intrinsic irony of Shakespeare’s Richard by adding visual features: for example, when Richard reports to King Edward that Clarence “...poor soul, by your first order died,; And that a winged Mercury did bear:; Some tardy cripple bore the countermand,; That came too lag to see him buried,” we have already been shown that Richard himself was in fact both of these messengers, and was quite aware of what he was doing by delivering the one message and suppressing the other. While not strictly in the play, this is certainly consistent with Shakespeare’s sense of dramatic irony.

The Criterion edition of the DVD is one of the best to come out even from that distinguished line: it’s a two-disc affair containing restored footage that has not been seen in any of the previous commercial releases, and also a particularly enlightening commentary by a pair of film historians, who discuss both acting styles of the period and various cinematic tricks that Olivier (ever willing to explore new ideas in film) used.


2nd Priest: Willoughby Gray

Abbot: Roy Russell

Archbishop: Nicholas Hannen

Beadle: Bill Shine

Brackenbury: Andrew Cruickshank

Catesby: Norman Wooland

Clergyman: Deering Wells

Clergyman: Derek Prentice

Dighton, 1st murderer: Michael Gough

Duchess of York: Helen Haye

Duke of Buckingham: Ralph Richardson

Edward, Prince of Wales: Paul Huson

First Priest: Russell Thorndike

Forrest, 2nd murderer: Michael Ripper

George, Duke of Clarence: John Gielgud

George Stanley: Richard Bennett

Henry, Earl of Richmond: Stanley Baker

Jane Shore: Pamela Brown

King Edward IV of England: Cedric Hardwicke

Lady-in-waiting : Rosalind Knight

Lord Mayor of London: George Woodbridge

Lovel: John Laurie

Messenger to Hastings: Peter Williams

Messenger to Richard: Alexander Davion

Messenger to Richard: Brian Nissen

Messenger to Richard: Lane Meddick

Messenger to Richard: Robert Bishop

Monk: Norman Fisher

Monk: Wally Bascoe

Norfolk: John Phillips

Ostler: Timothy Bateson

Page to Richard: Stewart Allen

Queen Elizabeth: Mary Kerridge

Ratcliffe: Esmond Knight

Richard III: Laurence Olivier

Scrivener: Terence Greenidge

Scrub woman: Ann Wilton

The Lady Anne: Claire Bloom

The Lord Dorset: Douglas Wilmer

The Lord Grey: Dan Cunningham

The Lord Hastings: Alec Clunes

The Lord Rivers: Clive Morton

The Lord Stanley: Laurence Naismith

Tyrell: Patrick Troughton

Young Duke of York: Andy Shine