Oct 30, 2014

Laurence Olivier, Rebecca


For a second year in a row Laurence Olivier got a Best Actor nomination for playing a brooding crank. I had heard rumblings here and there on the internet about how he delivers an impressive performance, and so I was curious to see what he had to offer here outside of what I had already seen in Wuthering Heights, especially since Rebecca seemed like it'd be a picture that more favors its female characters.

After having watched the film, I ask and extend this question to anyone who has seen it as well and loved Olivier: what is there exactly to praise about his work here? The most fascinating people in Rebecca are either women or dead, and Olivier is sort of just left behind to scrimmage for some screentime and a lasting impression. I wish I was more proficient at reading deeply into one's acting, because really all I saw here was a typical male counterpart role to a female lead. Sure, the man does sexy and suave aristocrat with words that sound smooth like silk as wonderfully as one would expect from a handsome English actor (it takes a certain kind of sophisticated charm to be lace your comments with insults and be hopelessly debonair all at once), but it's hard for me to identify anything substantial about Olivier's performance to rave about. We are to believe that Maxim de Winter is a wounded and troubled soul, but all I was able to see was a regular guy who'd occasionally get into fits of anger, with no sort of deep, palpable grief underneath that manicured face of his; in other words, Olivier plays the character a little too stoically for my tastes, and I didn't feel as though he successfully conveyed Maxim to be as unsettled as he is frequently described by the characters of the film. Thus I was neither feeling for him or annoyed by him...I had no feelings for Maxim whatsoever--he was just a being and not a force with whom I had no sort of opinion on. And I suppose that that sums up my overall feelings towards the performance as a whole. Even the big reveal by Maxim is handled in an oddly anticlimactic manner by Olivier; he's sorrowful but not exactly impactful. It's from this moment on that the film is finally his for the taking, and I admit that he does more with the last half hour than he ever does in the first hour and a half, but I can't help but feel underwhelmed by it all. This is a performance that is totally serviceable and played by an actor who definitely seems to look the part, but, like a few of the other nominated performances from this year, it isn't one that made much of an impression on me.


  1. I don't think it's mindblowing, but very minimalistic the way I like.

  2. I don't remember much / if anything about this performance. :)

  3. The underlying problem here is emblematic of many of Olivier's performances: he's a chilly actor who struggles to bring warmth to his portrayals. He once said that as an actor he worked from "the outside in", which makes sense because his performances are all head and no heart. This is no exception. Maxim's internal struggles aren't clear because Olivier's trying to show rather than feel them, and if there's any affection for Fontaine, what's more clear onscreen is his detestation of her (he reportedly hated working with her) and this is utterly wrong for the character. In essence, he does come across as a "crank". You hit the nail right on the head.