Great Performances (1971– )
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Laurence Olivier: A Life 

A multi-award winning biography covering the life and career of actor/director Laurence Olivier.




Episode credited cast:
Laurence Olivier ... Himself
Melvyn Bragg ... Himself / Interviewer
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Peggy Ashcroft ... Herself (as Dame Peggy Ashcroft)
Jill Esmond ... Herself (archive footage)
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ... Himself
John Gielgud ... Himself (as Sir John Gielgud)
Vivien Leigh ... Herself (archive footage)
John Osborne John Osborne ... Himself
Joan Plowright ... Herself
Ralph Richardson ... Himself (as Sir Ralph Richardson)
William Wyler ... Himself


A candid, comprehensive interview with Sir Laurence Olivier - the only such profile the actor/director ever allowed - offers an intimate visit with the legendary star of stage and screen. Running nearly two hours and forty minutes, this landmark biography follows Olivier's entire life and career from childhood on, capturing his genius for future generations. Clips shown from his films include "Wuthering Heights," "Rebecca," "Pride and Prejudice," "Henry V," "Hamlet," "Richard III," "The Entertainer," "Othello," "Sleuth," and "Marathon Man." Key partnerships, on and offstage are recalled by Olivier and by Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Sir John Gielguld, Sir Ralph Richardson, his wife Joan Plowright and other friends and colleagues. Multi-award winner including the British Academy Award, The New York International Film and TV Festival Gold Medal Award, and the Primetime TV Emmy Award for Best Documentary. Written by alfiehitchie

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Release Date:

1983 (UK) See more »

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KQED See more »
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Features Richard III (1955) See more »

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User Reviews

A great overview of the accomplishments of an extraordinary man!
15 February 2000 | by Lady XSee all my reviews

During his long and celebrated career, Olivier brilliantly portrayed, on stage and screen, a greater variety of characters than any other actor, past or present. His tenacity and ambition are astonishing and admirable, and his versatility and talent are, in this writer's opinion, unmatched.

This interview, of Olivier himself, and of several friends and associates, at last gives us the opportunity to actually get to know a bit about his true personality and character, sans makeup, wig or costume, and only served to deepen my admiration and respect for the man.

He speaks articulately, and with a delightful, often self-deprecating, humor, about his career, from his first Shakespearean roles as a schoolboy in England, to his early roles in the legitimate theatre, and of his culture shock upon his arrival in Hollywood in the '30's.

He describes his initial, mutually antagonistic relationships with some of Hollywood's greatest movie producers and directors, and how they eventually succeeded in instilling, in this classically-trained theatrical purist, a love and respect for the medium of film and a recognition of its potential -- and of how that revelation eventually led to his own successes as an award-winning film producer and director.

The viewer gets an inkling as to the fortitude of the man, in his visions of bringing Shakespeare to the screen as it had never been done before, in discussions of his tribulations as director of the Old Vic, in his long-fought battle to finally bring to reality the National Theatre of England, and in his determination to continue working throughout his lifetime, despite financial and professional setbacks, and, in his later years, chronic, painful, debilitating illness.

Although I thought the interviewer was weak and ineffectual, the video itself, which includes photos and discussions of many of Olivier's theatrical roles, as well as excerpts from several of his films, is a great overview of the accomplishments of an extraordinary man!

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