‘Genuine attempts at enlarging the scope of film’: William Walton’s and Laurence Olivier’s Shakespeare Trilogy

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Although they collaborated fully on only three feature films, the partnership of Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir William Walton remains one of the great filmmaker-composer partnerships, one which bears comparison with the teaming of Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann, or Federico Fellini and Nino Rota. The chapter draws on primary source materials in both the Walton archive at Yale University and the Olivier papers at the British Library in order to undertake a close reading of the scores for Henry V (1945), Hamlet (1948),and Richard III (1955) and assesses the ways in which Waltons music complements and counterpoints both Shakespeare's texts and Oliviers editing, acting, and mise-en-scene. Comparisons are drawn between Waltons film scoring practices and those of such prominent contemporaries as Sergei Prokofiev and Max Steiner, as well as more recent film composers such as Patrick Doyle. The chapter also situates the scores within the wider context of 1940s and 1950s British film and film music, and confirms filmmaker Michael Powells assertion that this trilogy represented a genuine attempt to enlarge the scope of film as an art form through its complex combination of words, music, cinematography, and design.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Music
    EditorsChristopher R. Wilson, Mervyn Cooke
    PublisherOxford academic
    Number of pages33
    ISBN (Electronic)9780190945176
    ISBN (Print)9780190945145
    Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2022

    Publication series

    NameOxford Handbooks
    PublisherOxford Academic


    • film music
    • Hamlet
    • Henry V
    • Laurence Olivier
    • Richard III
    • William Shakespeare
    • William Walton

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Arts and Humanities


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