Laurence Olivier received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.
Laurence Olivier I will admit, is an actor I enjoy watching a whole lot, especially when he gets a role completely right. He is an actor though that I enjoy most though when he relaxes a bit. Now this does not mean his character has to be a relaxed fellow, but just a character Olivier plays around a little with, and is not just intense the whole time. Heathcliff is an Archetype of a character. The Archetype of the dramatic romantic man, who does anything to try to gain his true love. This stops Olivier from really relaxing in this role, which stops his performance from being an Olivier performance I really enjoy, but this does not stop his performance from being a good if not great one.
Some have described his performance as over the top, and even hammy, but I disagree. See Heathcliff, is a role written incredibly broadly. His emotions in the film are written to be shown this way, his dialogue, and character prevent the character from being played entirely subtly. Olivier has to deal with the big emotions of the character throughout the film, and does not become hammy despite the nature of the character, which quite an achievement. Olivier conveys his emotions certainly through his superb voice, but he never forgets to internalize Heathcliff's feelings through his face, and eyes which always convey emotions in this performance.
Olivier is just great throughout his performance from his beginning where Heathcliff is a hard working young man being mistreated by the brother of his Adoptive family. Also being mistreated by the rich people in his community being called Gypsy rubbish. Heathcliff though also continues to pursue Kathy (Merle Oberon) his childhood sweetheart who he continues to love, and she continues to love him. She though only shows that secretly at times in order to be intune with the proper way for the community.
Olivier is perfect in these early scenes showing enthusiasm with Oberon when she still shows him love. Oberon and Olivier have an interesting chemistry in this film, since apparently they hated each other during filming. They actually do well together though, even if strangely. They show the mutual love when they need but they really work when Olivier shows love but Oberon stays cold. Olivier is perfect in these scenes especially in his sadness when she talks down to him as a servant and is truly saddened by it. Also when he overhears her talking down to him, his reaction really is made heartbreaking by Olivier.
Later though Olivier is just as effective when Heathcliff comes back to Wuthering Heights after he leaves for a long while in distress. Heathcliff returns though now rich and owning Wuthering Heights by undercutting his cruel adoptive brother. Heathcliff now has become a cold man, and Olivier is simply great at showing the changed Heathcliff. He is effectively chilling in the way he stands and looks, showing how the life has been taken out of him. Olivier is particularly chilling when he tells his adoptive brother to shoot him, and how he cruelly commands over the man who had done the same to him. Heathcliff has not lost all of his heart though and does show it in key scenes showing he still loves Kathy. Olivier really is perfect in these scenes especially in the last scene together. He plays it really well showing how Heathcliff hid the emotions all along, and really making these scenes as natural and powerful as possible. Olivier's entire performance is truly great, never allowing the somewhat simple nature of his character to make his performance simple. Another great performance from Lord Olivier.