Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

OLIVIER Philip Ziegler

OLIVIER. Philip Ziegler. MacLehose; 2013.

This is a very entertaining overview of the life and career of Lord Laurence Olivier which makes it clear that if he lived for anything, it was his art. The book examines his emergence as a fine if often controversial Shakespearean actor, his three troubled marriages (to Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright), his career in films, including work in Hitchcock's Rebecca, The Prince and the Showgirl, Carrie (in which he gave a particularly superb performance), and other films, and especially his job as director of the National Theater, which was beset with difficulties but which he was determined to hold on to. There are also behind-the-scenes details of the productions of Olivier's Shakespeare films to go along with his numerous stage performances of the Bard. Whether he was director, star, or both, Olivier always liked to take charge, which sometimes put him in conflict with the rest of the cast. One of the most amusing aspects of the book is how it recounts Olivier's rivalry with the other two Great Actors of his day, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud, not to mention his attitude towards American film stars such as Kirk Douglas. Olivier may well have loved his wives and children, but he was, above all, An Actor. Author Ziegler may not have a background in film or theater -- most of his books are historical works -- but he still manages to do well by his subject.

Verdict: Absorbing look at the world of Laurence Olivier. ***1/2.

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