Customer Reviews


20 Reviews
5 star:
 (12)
4 star:
 (4)
3 star:
 (2)
2 star:
 (1)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The man who wasn't there
Olivier is a biography of the great man which leans more towards the factual than the analytical. It is primarily a biography of his professional life with relatively short sections dedicated to his childhood and to his declining years.

The picture which comes across is not an unfamiliar one for a man seen as great through his achievements.Visionary and...
Published 11 months ago by P. G. Harris

versus
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An unnecessary addition
Ziegler's tome seems an unnecessary addition to an already crowded bookshelf of retrospective literary works on the life and career of arguably the greatest English actor of his generation. The early stuff has already been more thoroughly covered by other biographers and by Olivier himself. The later years are sketchy and seem to be too sensitive to the likely reactions...
Published 9 months ago by LESLIE LAWTON


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The man who wasn't there, 2 Nov 2013
By 
P. G. Harris - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Olivier (Kindle Edition)
Olivier is a biography of the great man which leans more towards the factual than the analytical. It is primarily a biography of his professional life with relatively short sections dedicated to his childhood and to his declining years.

The picture which comes across is not an unfamiliar one for a man seen as great through his achievements.Visionary and charismatic, but also prepared to be insensitive to the point of cruelty with those who are not, or who are no longer, useful to him. As a study in leadership, it is fascinating, as while Olivier had many of the characteristics of a great leader, he had the added benefit of the power of the expert. As well as having the vision, he was also viewed as the greatest at doing the job of those he was leading, namely acting.

Being too young to have seen the great man on stage, it is difficult to understand the awe in which he was held. The screen performances have a distinct odour of cured porcine, and it would be interesting to know the balance between these simply portraying an acting style to the taste of a different age, as against being those of a stage actor struggling with a different medium. The fact that contemporary and possible peer, Gielgud's performances do seem to stand up better suggests that the latter is true.

The relationship with Gielgud is one of the most interesting parts of the book, which portrays rivalry, petty jealousy, but also mutual admiration and acts of great kindness; Gielgud's gift of a sword bequeathed to him by a great actor of the past, Olivier's defence of Gielgud when there were attempts to bar him from the Garrick club on account of his homosexuality. In the end, the picture is of Olivier the greater actor-director, Gielgud the greater human being.

The weaknesses of Olivier's character run through the book suggesting a man who may have been easier to love than to like, inspiring but petty, engaging but cold. This is a theme which is strongest in the consideration of Olivier's love life, a particular area where the author displays his tendency to present facts rather than to analyse or to judge . Here is a man who was married three times, who had a life of towering passion with Vivien Leigh,but who was also a serial adulterer, seemingly taking lovers, frequently his fellow actors, as a habit, in a fashion in which normal mortals take holidays.

He is portrayed as a man of great contradictions, capable of extravagant public praise for a rival, but intense personal jealousy; an instinctive conservative who sought to embrace radicalism in the theatre; a man with an intense desire for control who tried (not always successfully) to encourage free thinking subordinates; less seriously a rampant heterosexual who adopted the screamingly camp speech patterns of the archetypal "luvvie". Perhaps the contradictions are more understandable when viewed as being part of a man who suppressed some natural elements of his character in order to serve his drive and ambition.

At the end the most lasting impression is that of a man who was defined by his work in two fundamental ways. Quite clearly he will be remembered for his achievements, the great Shakespearean roles, the support for modernism in the theatre, and above all the development of the National Theatre. He is also portrayed as an actor in personal as well as professional life; his biographer, his contemporaries and the man himself all question whether they knew him, or he knew himself. At the end of the day was he simply a man of great ambition who acted whatever role was expected of him , or was necessary to succeed, but in whom the intrinsic core character was under developed.

I cannot say, with the voice of anyone who was around at the time of Olivier's public prominence, whether this is a great autobiography. However, if you are someone with an interest in the theatre or in acting, and who is aware of the man as a historical presence, but doesn't know a great deal more, then you are likely to find this a absorbing read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Olivier, 25 Oct 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Olivier (Kindle Edition)
I eat up anything by Philip Ziegler and this was a double pleasure as Olivier fascinates me. Having said that, Mr Ziegler is such a good writer that my conceptions of Olivier underwent a vast change. Brilliant actor he may have been but as a man I don't think I would have liked him very much. The book is fascinating and I learnt a great deal, swiftly turning the pages as I always do with this man's work, and ultimately ending up feeling vaguely upset at the great man's weaknesses which he hid so well, his illnesses and injuries were something I knew nothing about. For anyone like me who is fascinated by this man this is well worth a read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An unnecessary addition, 11 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Olivier (Hardcover)
Ziegler's tome seems an unnecessary addition to an already crowded bookshelf of retrospective literary works on the life and career of arguably the greatest English actor of his generation. The early stuff has already been more thoroughly covered by other biographers and by Olivier himself. The later years are sketchy and seem to be too sensitive to the likely reactions of his widow and children. Indeed the viewpoint of his widow (Joan Plowright) is too often the author's guideline to the interpretation of events to make this a totally unbiased account. The National Theatre years are given a much more accurate and incisive analysis in his protoge Michael Blakemore's book STAGE BLOOD. Ziegler's work adds nothing new to the existing wealth of biographies and memoirs of this unique twentieth century theatrical force. A major disappointment.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To admire or not to admire; that is the question, 16 Oct 2013
By 
Don Davis (Coulsdon, Surrey, England) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Olivier (Kindle Edition)
When I was growing up, I was led me to believe that Olivier was a great man, someone to look up to and admire. A great actor indeed (I saw him once in The Master Builder at the Old Vic), but Ziegler's book has the ring of truth about it and brings outa very different sort of person, warts and all. After reading this book it's not so easy to admire Olivier - he comes across in the book as arrogant, uncouth, uncharitable ... and yet, and yet, perhaps this goes hand-in-hand with genius? Anyway a fascinating read, a story well told, full of insights.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Old Memories, 16 Nov 2013
By 
J. D. Rose "History lover" (Norfolk) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Olivier (Hardcover)
Have just finished reading Zeigler's book on Sir Laurence Olivier. I was lucky enough to work for L.O.P.Ltd. for 3 years in the early sixties when Sir Laurence was involved with the Chichester Theatre and I found him a charming, friendly man who treated me with courtesy and charm. I was expecting a book which would go into greater detail about Sir Laurence's stage and film performances and was very disappointed when so much of his work was missed out from the book. It would have been helpful to have an index listing his performances but again this was missing. I thought the chapters on the National Theatre were too long so that other aspects of his activities had to be missed out. There was also no real mention of his fight to save the St.James's Theatre where he and Vivien Leigh had been involved. A very mixed up book which I would not recommend to anyone who wanted more facts about Sir Laurence and his works.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive biography of a magnificent performer who was large, who contained multitudes, 20 Aug 2014
By 
Robert Morris (Dallas, Texas) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Olivier (Hardcover)
Prior to reading Philip Ziegler's biography, what I knew about Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) was limited almost entirely to seeing several of the films in which he appeared, many of them for the first time on the AMC channel. They include Wuthering Heights (1939), Rebecca and Pride and Prejudice (both in 1940), The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fifth (1944), Richard III (1955), The Devil's Disciple (1959), The Merchant of Venice, The Entertainer and Spartacus (both in 1960), and Marathon Man (1976). I never saw him appear on stage but, of course, over the years read about his great triumphs, mostly on stages in Great Britain. I knew almost nothing about his personal life, other than the fact that he was married to Vivian Leigh (1940-1960) and later to Joan Plowright (from 1961 until his death of renal failure in 1989).

These are the questions I had in mind when beginning to read Ziegler's biography:

o By what process did he develop his extraordinary skills as an actor
o His favorite plays among those in which he appeared
o His favorite films among those in which he appeared
o Other prominent actors whom he admired most...and why
o What he was like to work with as a fellow actor
o What he was like to work with as a director
o Others with whom he most enjoyed working
o Others with whom he least enjoyed working
Note: John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson (and perhaps Kirk Douglas) would probably be on both lists for reasons that reveal more about Olivier than they do about them.

I am deeply grateful to Ziegler for all that I learned about Olivier's life and work insofar as these subjects are concerned. I am also grateful to him for what I learned about other dimensions of his life and work:

o His indifference to parenthood and neglect of his four children
o Why he was dismissed by the Old Vic theatre company
o His up-and-down, down-and-up relationship with the National Theatre
o Why two of his marriages failed but the third succeeded
o His inability to delegate authority
o According to those who knew him best, what his defining characteristics were as an actor
o And as a person
o His stage fright and other anxieties and insecurities
o The personal relationships he cherished most
o His struggles with Leigh's bi-polar temperament and behavior
o Olivier's sexuality
o His extravagant praise and scathing criticism, often during the same conversation
o In later years, his health issues and how he dealt with them

The title of this review is explained by the fact that, as I re-read this book prior to setting to work on this review of it, I was again reminded of Walt Whitman's declaration in "Song of Myself": "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes." The same can be said of Laurence Olivier both on and off the stage as well as on and off the screen.

I agree with John Simon's concluding comments in his review in The New York Times: "The biography is full of marvelous anecdotes; traces sovereignly the rivalries with Richardson, Gielgud, and Olivier's successor at the National, Peter Hall; and avoids the salacious. It is altogether a thorough and intelligent book." Presumably most of those who read it will agree with Simon. My only regret is that I never had the opportunity to see Olivier perform on stage but at least several of his best films remain. I shall revisit a few soon, probably Henry V first.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable portrait of a leading actor and his period., 2 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Olivier (Hardcover)
Comprehensive view of Olivier and his contribution to the theatre and film of his period. A very useful over-view of differing dramatic styles and skills and the development of the theatre in thirties, forties, fifties and sixties, especially the development of the National Theatre. Interesting and readable portrait of Olivier and his fellow actors.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fluently written, but spoiled by errors, 30 Dec 2013
This review is from: Olivier (Hardcover)
I enjoyed the book very much and it is certainly well-written. I agree with a previous reviewer that there is perhaps too much on the National Theatre period, especially on the drawn-out issue of the succession. Here I feel too obvious a reliance is placed on Sir Peter Hall's diaries.
The main thing that bothered me was a series of factual errors, that shouldn't really have got past the editing stage. To give some examples: when discussing Olivier's attitude before filming "Wuthering Heights", Mr Ziegler suggests that Olivier felt Merle Oberon would not be so good as Cathy as Vivien Leigh would have been, but that he "had heard good things about her" and that she might well be acceptable as an alternative. This gives the impression that Olivier had not himself worked with Miss Oberon, whereas they had starred together in "The Divorce of Lady X" only the previous year. Secondly, when discussing the 1955 "Macbeth", it is suggested that Harry Andrews played Macduff, though in fact the part was played by Keith Michell. Finally, when relating the setting up of his projected film of "Richard III", Mr Ziegler has Olivier first approaching impresario Mike Todd to produce the film, but turning to Alexander Korda following Mr Todd's death in a plane crash. Mr Todd was killed in 1958, whereas "Richard III" was shot in the summer of 1954 and released in 1955.
But errors apart, I think this is a fluent and engaging account of Olivier's astonishing life.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 28 Nov 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Olivier (Kindle Edition)
Detailed but an easy and entertaining read
Having read scholarly histories which tend to disappear under detail, this is an excellent read, while still being detailed. A real insight into a complex character.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Areview., 24 Oct 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Olivier (Hardcover)
I already have read several biographies of Olivier. But here I learnt far more about the man. I regularly saw all that was staged at the National Theatre at the Old Vic, and it brought back happy memories of GOOd acting and not the mumbling we are subjected to today.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Olivier
Olivier by Philip Ziegler (Hardcover - 12 Sep 2013)
£17.00
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews