Richard III

Movie review by
Rich Phippen, Common Sense Media
Richard III Movie Poster Image
Olivier's classic Shakespeare adaptation has some violence.
  • NR
  • 1955
  • 161 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Violence, cruelty, deceit, and jealousy are prominent themes. Justice is eventually served but there is little goodness to be found along the way. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Richard is cruel, manipulative, and coldhearted. Most characters -- especially women -- are shown as weak and easily manipulated.


A young child is depicted in a coffin. A character is beaten over the head and then drowned in a cask of wine. Another character is beheaded and although the actual blow is not shown, blood is shown running down the blade of the axe. Two young children are smothered to death. A big battle at the end features sword fighting with some deaths. One lead character has their throat cut.


Some brief kissing and holding.


Occasional uses of "bastards" (in the literal context) and "damn."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink wine, but no drunkenness is shown. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Richard III is a 1955 Shakespearian tragedy, directed by and starring Laurence Olivier, that appears much like a filmed play. It's one of Shakespeare's more violent stories, with the violence relatively strong for its time. One character is bludgeoned and drowned in a cask of wine. Another character is beheaded by an axe, with the camera pulling away as the axe falls -- afterwards blood is shown running down the axe blade. Two young boys are smothered to death in their bed. During the climactic battle there is much sword fighting but only one death that's relatively graphic, with the character having his throat cut before being set upon by dozens of swordsmen. The dialogue is largely taken verbatim from Shakespeare's original play. Audiences unfamiliar with the playwright's work may need patience to adapt to the rhythm and language used. The script includes "bastard" -- used in its literal sense -- and "damn."

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What's the story?

RICHARD III tells the story of Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Laurence Olivier) who has just helped his brother, Edward (Cedric Hardwicke) become King of England. Racked with jealousy, Richard plots to take the throne himself. He sets about framing his other brother for plotting to kill the king and plans to murder any heirs who stand in his way. But Richard's evil and twisted ways threaten to be his own undoing. 

Is it any good?

This is the only one of Olivier's Shakespeare adaptations not to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, although it did win Best Film at the 1955 BAFTAs. Olivier himself also won a BAFTA for his performance as the scheming titular character. Unlike Hamlet, which was released seven years earlier, Richard III is shot in color and is far more advanced in terms of presentation, although the sets and extended scenes do tend to make it feel like a stage play. The seminal performances are first rate, as is the norm with Olivier's adaptations. However, the dialogue can be tricky for anybody unfamiliar with Shakespeare's works, which may make the plot harder to follow. The studio sets have dated somewhat, but this doesn't particularly detract from the delivery of Shakespeare's words. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Shakespearean language used in Richard III. Is the dialogue accessible or does it put people off? How has Shakespeare impacted language today?

  • What did you think to the end of the movie? Do you think justice prevailed? 

  • The violence is not graphic yet the impact remains. Should more movies take this approach in modern day cinema? Talk about the different kinds of violence in movies.

  • How does Richard III compare to other movies based on Shakespeare's work?

  • Would you have liked to watch the movie with modern dialogue and settings? If so, why? Would that take anything away from the original story?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love theater

Themes & Topics

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