Oscar Movies: Richard III (1956)

In 1955, actor-director Laurence Olivier made his Richard III, his third Shakespeare film, after “Henry V” and “Hamlet,” which was the surprise winner of the 1948 Best Picture Oscar,

It’s hard to think of another screen version of a Shakespearean play that boasts such a superlative cast, headed by Britain’s three most gifted and accomplished actors, Olivier, John Gielgud, and Ralph Richardson.

Most critics admired the interpretation of Olivier, who received yet another Best Actor nomination from the Oscar voters.

The part of the malevolent hunchbacked monarch is most suitable to Olivier’s range of skills, detached approach, and chilly magnetism in embodying a vicious yet also charismatic character.

The tale begins with Richard, Duke of York (Olivier) observing with envy and jealousy the coronation of Edward IV (Cedric Hardwicke), which illuminates Richard’s metaphorical winter of discontent. Richard sets about scheming for the throne, arranging the deaths of Clarence (John Gielgud) and Edward’s young heirs, and seducing Lady Anne (Claire Bloom). After Edward’s death, he becomes protector and then king, but must face the House of Tudor in a bloody battle at Bosworth Field.

The battle scene, which was shot in Spain, was tough to execute, not least because of Olivier’s accidental injury; his limp as Richard was largely a result of the accident.

For the sake of authenticity, Olivier went through many hours each day to apply the heavy and complex makeup.  It’s the same prosthetics he wore on stage, including a false nose, hunched back, false hand, and black pageboy wig.

Since “Richard III” was not commercially popular in England, the producers made a deal with NBC TV in the US in which the networks acquired the rights to broadcast the film for the sum of $500,000.  This was a unique experiment at the time of releasing a film simultaneously in theaters and TV (It’s against the Academy rules).

In later years, the film not only recouped its expense but became profitable for Olivier and the producers.

While “Richard III” lacks the bold conceptions of “Henry V” and “Hamlet,” but the acting of the entire ensemble is superb and Olivier’s acting is nothing short of brilliant.

End Note:

Olivier and Alexander Korda had hoped to make a screen version of “Macbeth,” with Vivien Leigh (who was then married to Olivier) as Lady Macbeth, but Korda died a year after “Richard III.”

While the British Film Academy honored “Richard III” with Best British Film, Best Film, and Best Actor awards, the American Academy gave the film only one nomination, Best Actor.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Actor: Laurence Olivier

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Best Actor Oscar was the popular favorite, Yul Brynner for the musical “The King and I.”