Laurence Olivier bored to death of acting before landmark decision on career

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Laurence Olivier, often considered Britain’s finest actor, this afternoon stars as the famous Fitzwilliam Darcy in 1940’s Pride and Prejudice this afternoon, which airs from 2.30pm on BBC Two. The star plays opposite Greer Garson, in the film which tells the tale of the independent-minded Elizabeth Bennett, who comes to the attention of Mr Darcy. The pair’s relationship becomes tense as Ms Bennett, much to her mother’s frustration, grows tired of Mr Darcy’s arrogance and snobbish attitude.

The film, which was remade decades later with the likes of Colin Firth starring in it, was a huge hit with fans, despite being a commercial failure.

It currently holds a remarkable 100 percent fresh rating on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and is championed as one of Olivier’s finest films.

A review by Bosley Crowther for the New York Times, noted how it was “the most deliciously pert comedy of old manners, the most crisp and crackling satire in costume that we in this corner can remember ever having seen on the screen”.

The critic added: “Greer Garson is Elizabeth—’dear, beautiful Lizzie’—stepped right out of the book, or rather out of one’s fondest imagination: poised, graceful, self-contained, witty, spasmodically stubborn and as lovely as a woman can be.

“Laurence Olivier is Darcy, that’s all there is to it—the arrogant, sardonic Darcy whose pride went before a most felicitous fall.”

Pride and Prejudice was a huge success for Olivier, cementing his stardom among fans both at home and abroad.

His work in front of the camera would be recognised for a generation, and he’d become one of just four people to earn more than ten Academy Award nominations for acting.

The others in his company are Bette Davis, the first to secure ten nominations, Meryl Streep, Katharine Hepburn and Jack Nicholson.

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And while Olivier’s reputation was fierce, the Dorking-born star nearly quit acting in 1956 after becoming frustrated during the production of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger at the Royal Court.

Reports show that Olivier had seen the play’s original run and was unconvinced by it, though Amercian playwright Arthur Miller talked him to taking a turn in its production.

But reflecting on that decision in 1981’s At the Royal Court : 25 years of the English Stage Company, written by Richard Findlater, Olivier discussed how he was feeling about the craft.

He said: “I had reached a stage in my life that I was getting profoundly sick of—not just tired—sick.

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“Consequently the public were, likely enough, beginning to agree with me.

“My rhythm of work had become a bit deadly: a classical or semi-classical film; a play or two at Stratford, or a nine-month run in the West End, etc etc.

“I was going mad, desperately searching for something suddenly fresh and thrillingly exciting. What I felt to be my image was boring me to death.”

But the star continued with his craft, and years later was credited with ensuring British star John Mills got his shot at stardom.

Mills told the Melbourne Herald Sun in 1991, that he felt he had “got really as far as I was going to get” in showbusiness after seven years acting as a “musical comedy, juvenile lead” on the stage.

He said: “I decided I was going to try and get into the legitimate theatre.

“I was having dinner with Olivier and Vivien Leigh one night and telling Larry [Sir Laurence] I was pretty desperate.”

The actor noted how on the same evening, Tyrone Guthrie, who was poised to begin a new season at the Old Vic Theatre, stopped for a drink and discussed the problems he was having casting the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Mills recalled how Olivier told the director: “Well, you needn’t look any further.

“The actor you want is sitting right there.”

Pride and Prejudice airs this afternoon from 2:30pm on BBC Two.

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