Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. United Kingdom, 1960. Woodfall Film Productions. Screenplay by John Osborne, Nigel Kneale, adaptation by John Osborne, based on his play. Cinematography by Oswald Morris. Produced by Harry Saltzman. Music by John Addison. Production Design by Ralph W. Brinton. Costume Design by Jocelyn Rickards. Film Editing by Alan Osbiston. Academy Awards 1960.
Laurence Olivier extended his appeal to a whole new generation of filmgoers when he took on the title role in John Osborne’s play and later film, entering the British New Wave movement that was making his more pristine earlier efforts look dated and snobby. He plays a fading music hall entertainer who plays to nearly empty houses by day and goes home to an alcoholic wife (Brenda de Banzie, terrific) and elderly father (Roger Livesey in old man drag), who used to be in the same line of work. He also has around him his devoted son (Alan Bates) and skeptical daughter (Joan Plowright, Olivier’s wife) while his third child (Albert Finney) has just been sent to fight in Suez. Olivier’s desperation to get a big show mounted results in a spiderweb of complications that reveal the corruption at the heart of his family skills, including striking up a romance with the young ingénue (Shirley Anne Field) whose parents are handing cash over for their daughter’s big stage debut, and enraging his daughter with his irresponsible ways. The plot could easily be deconstructed for its allegorical charting of the decline of the British empire, but its beating heart is the captivating performance by the star himself, appropriately mediocre on stage and dazzling in his self-denial off it. Strong direction by Tony Richardson and an especially rich turn by Plowright (in only her second feature film), who gives Olivier a run for his money.