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Laurence Olivier rouses an all-star cast and an imperiled nation with his magnificent adaptation of Shakespeare's warrior monarch.
Director: Laurence Olivier
After D-Day had raised a nation's spirits, the encore came soon after. A box office flop soon rescued by word-of-mouth, Olivier's adaptation escaped the starched and stagy nature of previous Shakespearean projects. Instead, we get vigorous and poetic propaganda as the young King attempts to overcome hopeless odds and conquer a cocksure enemy. Olivier is rumoured to have courted William Wyler, and Carol Reed to direct, but both assured him there was only one man for the job.
Winston Churchill is said to have played censor, requesting removal of anything related to treason, and his government helped fund the film. Shot in Ireland and at Denham Studios, it took a year to make, assembling a cast that bats deep and includes real-life war veterans such as Ernest Thesiger, John Laurie and Esmond Knight, who was still recovering after the ship on which he served had engaged the Bismarck. William Walton's score adds a vital heartbeat and seems to match the line readings, sealing the success of a film that long ago breached its nitrate tins to become a vital cultural artefact.