Why you should watch ”Olivier’s Shakespeare”
Laurence Olivier directed himself in three Shakespeare films — Henry V (1946), Hamlet (1948), and Richard III (1956) — and the three have been collected in Criterion’s new boxed set. Olivier directed up a storm with Henry V, framing it as a play within a play (at times, we watch an Elizabethan audience watching a performance of it), and the VistaVision of Richard III gives it a Wizard of Oz-like candy-colored brightness that contrasts effectively with Olivier’s ink-black pageboy haircut. Hamlet — the one black-and-white film of the set — has its own stylistic conceits, such as some soliloquies spoken in voice-over as thoughts in Hamlet’s head. The commentaries accompanying Henry V and Richard III are enthralling crash courses by various scholars in British history, Shakespeare’s language, and film grammar. One fascinating extra is a 1966 televised conversation between Olivier and the great theater critic Kenneth Tynan. It’s moving to hear the actor say of himself, ”The atmosphere of genteel poverty is…almost the most fertile ground for ambition.” Olivier motivated himself by saying ”I will show them!” And show us he did.