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Tv Review : A Grand Sweep Of Olivier's Career

October 25, 1985|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

Theater lovers should either stay home tonight or make sure to set their VCRs for part one of PBS' "Laurence Olivier: A Life" (9 p.m. on Channels 28 and 15, 8 p.m. on Channel 24; part two airs at the same time next Friday).

First seen in England two years ago, this exceptionally satisfying three-hour documentary views the grand sweep of Olivier's career with the help of still photos, film clips, newsreels, recollections of his peers (Gielgud, Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft) and so forth. Best of all are the running comments of Olivier himself, interviewed by Melvyn Bragg.

The show is being seen here on the "Great Performances" series, and Bragg has noted that the now-frail Olivier prepared himself for this "performance" as meticulously as for any other, even to his costume and props--cardigan sweater, pipe. It's a delicious performance, muted but keen. Olivier tells a wicked story, especially on himself.

He can be tetchy, too. Bragg wants to talk about "technique." No, dear boy--Olivier won't have it. His technique is how he makes a living, and none of the public's business. Anyway, acting is results.

The results in this case start with some dreadful early talkies from Olivier's first years in Hollywood and end with his 1984 "King Lear." In between, we see clips from his movie-star days (including a screen test he did with Vivien Leigh for "Rebecca") and from his great Shakespearean films--"Hamlet" and "Richard III," among others.

His Archie Rice is here, and there's a newsreel of Olivier in uniform rallying a crowd in the Albert Hall during World War II: Prince Hal to the life.

There will be more comments on this show in Sunday's Calendar. Meanwhile, don't let the first installment get by you.

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