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Shakespeare & Beyond

Laurence Olivier, Henry V, and Shakespeare on film

Laurence Olivier - Henry V
Laurence Olivier - Henry V
Laurence Olivier - Henry V

Photograph from the movie of Henry V by Laurence Olivier : At the gates of Harfleur. 1945. ART File O49.3-H1 no.23 PHOTO. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Laurence Olivier’s directorial debut, his film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V during World War II, was only the third Shakespeare film ever to receive recognition at the Academy Awards, after A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) and Romeo and Juliet (1936).

Henry V was nominated for multiple Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color, and Best Music and Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. It also won a Special Award (now called an Honorary Award) for Olivier, “for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen.”

It’s worth noting that Henry V wasn’t Olivier’s only Oscar-nominated Shakespeare movie; he also directed and starred in Hamlet (1948), which did even better with its awards count. It won the Oscars for Best Picture (the first non-American film to do so), Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White, and Best Costume Design, Black-and-White. It was also nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Director, and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

⇒ Related: Staging Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet with vintage paper dolls in a toy theater

This Oscars season, we revisit a Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episode about Shakespeare on film, featuring Samuel Crowl, professor of English at Ohio University. He’s also the author of A Norton Guide to Shakespeare and Film, Shakespeare at the Cineplex, and Shakespeare Observed. He was interviewed by Rebecca Sheir.

Below is an excerpt from their conversation about Laurence Olivier and Henry V.