Laurence Olivier/

The actor should be able to create the universe in the palm of his hand

Laurence Olivier was perhaps the biggest British theatre star of the 20th century. Unlike other theatre legends of his time, he also enjoyed equal level of success on the big screen.

His career spanned the decades from the 1930s, when he broke through as a strikingly handsome and accomplished stage actor. In the Forties, married to Vivien Leigh, he delivered some of his finest film performances as brooding Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and Maxim de Winter in Hitchcock’s Rebecca.

As an actor/director, he brought Shakespeare to the big screen, starring in Hamlet and Henry V – the latter filmed with the intention of being a Second World War morale-booster – both Oscar winners. He was knighted in 1947.

In the 1950s, Sir Laurence appeared with Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl before embracing the new kitchen sink dramas of the Sixties in John Osborne’s The Entertainer in which he played a deliberately sleazy vulgar stage performer, Archie Rice. In the 1960s, he married his third wife, the British actress Joan Plowright.

When he died, his ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey. The critic Bernard Levin said, “What we have lost with Laurence Olivier is glory. He reflected it in his greatest roles; indeed he walked clad in it — you could practically see it glowing around him.”