Films starring Laurence Olivier
Long considered the greatest stage actor of his generation, Laurence Olivier had the looks, physique and charisma to become a matinée idol. Indeed, he was very much regarded as a populist before the 1937-8 seasons at the Old Vic turned him into a classical superstar and boosted his cinematic profile. Olivier had started out in a couple of Quota Quickies in 1930 and had ... [+]
Long considered the greatest stage actor of his generation, Laurence Olivier had the looks, physique and charisma to become a matinée idol. Indeed, he was very much regarded as a populist before the 1937-8 seasons at the Old Vic turned him into a classical superstar and boosted his cinematic profile. Olivier had started out in a couple of Quota Quickies in 1930 and had spent time in Hollywood with first wife, Jill Esmond, most notably being fired off Queen Christina (1933), as Greta Garbo wanted to play opposite ex-lover John Gilbert instead. Thus, Olivier returned to co-star with Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights (1939) with great reluctance, insisting that film was `too anaemic to take great acting'.
However, director William Wyler taught him humility during several backstage spats and Olivier ended up turning in a display of animal romanticism that earned him the first of his eleven Oscar nominations and led to his casting as a clipped Mr Darcy in Robert Z. Leonard's Pride and Prejudice and the even more stand-offish Maxim De Winter in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (both 1940), in which his sadistic passion for Joan Fontaine was partly inspired by the fact that David O. Selznick had refused to team him with Vivien Leigh, whom he would marry during the making of That Hamilton Woman (1941), which cashed in on the notoriety of their four-year affair.
On refusing Norma Shearer's invitation to make Romeo and Juliet in 1936, Olivier had said that Shakespeare had no place on the screen. However, during the Second World War, he recognised the patriotic value of Henry V (1944) and, having been denied a chance to serve in uniform, he agreed to take on the actor-director mantle after both William Wyler and Carol Reed declined. Audaciously combining location and stylised studio settings, this flagwaving pageant earned Olivier an Honorary Academy Award and a Best Actor nomination, a feat he would reprise with Richard III (1955) and Othello (1965). Hamlet (1948) however, not only brought him victory in the category, but it also netted him a directorial nod and the Best Picture prize.
Yet, despite these triumphs, Olivier was still only an occasional film actor and many of his screen projects originated on the stage. He had headlined Terence Rattigan's The Sleeping Prince with Vivien Leigh in 1953, but Marilyn Monroe was drafted in for the movie version, The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). However, this compelling, self-directed clash of styles proved a less felicitous experience than Tony Richardson's The Entertainer (1960), in which Olivier gnawed the scenery to truly moving effect as washed-up vaudevillian, Archie Rice (opposite third wife, Joan Plowright).
Largely unworthy cameos, taken from a need to keep working and maintain a new family, occupied his later years. But while critics carped, Olivier could still produce devastating performances like the Nazi dentist, Szell, in Marathon Man (1974). No wonder he was the youngest-ever theatrical knight, the first performer to be elevated to the peerage, and the first movie star to be buried in Westminster Abbey. [-]
Laurence Olivier, 1944
Cry God for Harry, England, and Laurence Olivier! His adaptation of Shakespeare's...
Laurence Olivier Film Listing
Robert Z Leonard, 1940
A classic adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice with Greer Garson as El...
Contains Hunted (1952), So Long at the Fair (1950), 21 Days (1937), Turn the Key ...
Laurence Olivier, 1955
This award-winning adaptation of Shakespeare’s play won Olivier BAFTAs for Best B...
Tony Palmer, 1984
Tony Palmer's exhaustive TV biopic of the German composer Richard Wagner stars Richard Burton in ...
John Schlesinger, 1976
A naive young graduate finds himself up against a vicious war criminal in contemporary New York i...
Peter Brook, 1952
John Gay's The Beggar's Opera tells the tale of a dandy highwayman, locked up in ...
Alfred Hitchcock, 1940
A young girl falls in love with a mysterious loner on the Riviera. Bringing her back to Manderle...
Otto Preminger, 1965
This classic psychological thriller from Otto Preminger stars Carol Lynley as Ann Lake, a single ...
A classic television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel that remains as captivati...
Stuart Burge, 1964
The film of John Dexter's production of Othello at the National Theatre with Laurence Olivier, Ma...
John Sichel, 1973
In this lavish stage production, Oscar winner Laurence Olivier takes on one of literary history’s...
Various (TV), 1973
World War II radically changed the way we think and live. First shown in 1974, Th...