Three different filmmakers—Al Pacino, Richard Loncraine, Laurence Olivier—have tackled RICHARD III, and each provided wildly different artistic visions of Shakespeare’s humpbacked king.
As to be expected, Laurence Olivier’s 1955 film is the most traditional. It is the last of the actor/director’s trilogy of Shakespeare plays, followingHENRY V (1944) and the Oscar-winning HAMLET(1948). With RICHARD, Olivier gives arguably his finest filmed Shakespeare performance (an Oscar for the Prince of Denmark notwithstanding) and surrounds himself with a stellar supporting cast, including Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, and Claire Bloom. With the action confined mainly to the claustrophobic castle, Richard’s machinations seem even more horrific when seen in such close proximity to each other.
Once again, Olivier wisely brought along William Walton to provide the score. Walton’s task was a bit more difficult compared to his earlier work onHENRY V andHAMLET. Except for the climactic battle scene and a few choice cues, most of the music is used as a transition in between scenes. Given these restrictions, Walton still channels his talents into a rousing score that is the perfect coda to his Shakespearean film work. From the dramatic fanfares of the machinations within the court to the lovely theme for Lady Anne (Claire Bloom) and rousing battle music, Walton’s score has it all.
For the first time ever (and maybe since), a film was premiered in theaters and television on the same day. Though it was released in the U.K. in 1955, RICHARD III was shown in the U.S. on NBC the afternoon of March 11, 1956. Less than five minutes were cut for the broadcast, and the film received excellent reviews in both mediums. If the estimates for the television audience are correct (between 25 and 40 million), that single broadcast outnumbered the sum total of the play’s theatrical audiences over the 358 years since its first performance.