Monday, November 23, 2009

Return to Olympus

In his long lifetime, Laurence Olivier was a giant among actors. In fact it became a kind of cliche, leading to lucrative parts in very bad movies, like playing Zeus (photo above) But since his death in 1989 there's been a lot of revisionism about his work and status in theatrical history. Together with the effects of absense, he's tended to be forgotten and dismissed. Meanwhile, his widow, Joan Plowright is enjoying a fine late life career in movies.
I had reason to consider all this after seeing an Olivier film performance I'd missed. Actually it was a TV production from 1978 of a post-WW II play called Daphne Laureola, on DVD. It turns out to have been one of a series of Granada Television plays, each one supposedly the "best play" of a particular year of the 20th century. Olivier produced six of these, and appeared in five.
Daphne Laureola by James Bridie was the "Best Play of 1949," so it must have been a bad year for plays because this isn't much. It might be more the case that Olivier had produced it before (in 1949) and that it was a good role for Joan Plowright. But as her older husband, Olivier has two pivotal scenes, one of which involves a monologue that is mostly exposition. I watched this scene twice because it is so mesmerizing. I'd forgotten how subtle and unique his work could be. Some of his signature TV roles were still to come: Lord Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited, Journey Round My Father and his King Lear. I don't know about anyone else, but an Olivier revival may be upon me.

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