The film was adapted by Osborne and Nigel Kneale from Osborne's play, and was produced by Harry Saltzman. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Olivier). It was filmed on location in the Lancashire seaside town of Morecambe.
Jean Rice, a young London art teacher, travels to a seaside resort (not specified but partly filmed in Morecambe) to visit her family. She is emotionally confused, having had a row with her fiancé, who wants her to emigrate with him to Africa. She is also deeply concerned about the Suez Crisis, having seen her soldier brother off to the war. She has attended a peace rally in Trafalgar Square, directed against prime minister Anthony Eden.
She finds that the resort has declined from its pre-Second World War heyday and is now drawing waning crowds, despite being in mid-season. The music-hall act of her father Archie Rice (Olivier) plays out to a small number of increasingly uninterested spectators. Her family is deeply dysfunctional. Her beloved grandfather, once one of the leading stars of the music hall, lives in quiet retirement with his daughter-in-law and grandson.
Jean goes to the theatre where her father is playing. As well as being an undischarged bankrupt and a semi-alcoholic, he is desperately short of money and is hounded by creditors – the income-tax people as well as his unpaid cast. He is adored by his cynical son and watched with mild amusement by his father; but his relationship with Phoebe, his second wife, is strained. He is a womaniser and she is well aware of his tendencies, openly commenting on them to the rest of the family. She is often found drinking heavily.
With his latest show drawing to a close, Archie is desperate to secure a new show for the winter season. While acting as master of ceremonies at a Miss Great Britain beauty contest he charms the young woman who finished in second place. Soon he is conducting an affair with her. Her wealthy and ambitious parents want her to have an entertainment career and are willing to put up the money for Archie's new show, if it includes her. They shake hands on the deal.
While this is going on, the radio reports that Archie's son Mick has been captured by the Egyptians at Suez after a major firefight. Archie seems oblivious of the news and the distress of his family. He is fixated with his dream of restarting his stalled career and his affair. His daughter discovers the affair and tells her grandfather. He, acting out of what he believes are his son's best interests, goes to the girl's parents and tells them that Archie is already married and a bankrupt. They swiftly break off all connections with him, ending their financing for his next show.
While he is still digesting this turn of events, news arrives that Archie's son has been killed in Egypt. His body is returned and a civic commemoration is attended by the whole town. It is reported that he will be awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions. Archie is still too busy fixating on his career to notice how his family is falling apart at the news. His brother-in-law wants to help the family to relocate to Canada and help him run a hotel but Archie rebuffs him. Instead he persuades an impresario to promote a new show, with his father as the headline attraction. His father, despite his age is still extremely popular and there is a public demand for his return.
On the opening night his father collapses and dies, completing the estrangement of the family. His wife and son are determined to go to Canada, while Archie is set on staying in Britain, even if it means going to jail. The film ends with Archie making an apparently final performance to an apathetic audience.Laurence Olivier – Archie Rice
Brenda de Banzie – Phoebe Rice
Roger Livesey – Billy Rice
Joan Plowright – Jean Rice
Alan Bates – Frank Rice
Daniel Massey – Graham
Shirley Anne Field – Tina Lapford
Thora Hird – Mrs Lapford
Albert Finney – Mick Rice (his film debut)
The film was based on the play of the same name, which was written by British playwright John Osborne. The play was produced in 1957 and the first performance was given on 10 April 1957 at the Royal Court Theatre with Laurence Olivier in the leading role of Archie Rice. Osborne wrote the play, at Olivier's request. Osborne's 1956 play, Look Back in Anger was adapted into a film in 1959, which was directed by Tony Richardson, and starred Richard Burton in the leading role. Osborne, along with Nigel Kneale, wrote the screenplay for the film. While Look Back in Anger was about an angry young man, The Entertainer was about an angry middle-aged man.
Osborne then decided to adapt The Entertainer, and co-wrote it again with Kneale. Richardson was once again assigned to direct the film, while Canadian producer Harry Saltzman produced it. Olivier reprised his role as Archie Rice, along with Brenda de Banzie, who played Phoebe, his hapless wife. They were the only members of the original cast to reprise their roles in the film adaptation. Joan Plowright replaced Dorothy Tutin, the original actress who portrayed Jean in the first production of the play when the play moved to the West End Theatre. Olivier, who had a disintegrating marriage with his wife Vivien Leigh (whom he had married in 1940), married Plowright in March 1961.
Roger Livesey was cast as Archie's father Billy, despite being only one year older than Olivier. George Relph, the actor who originated the role in the play, died in April 1960. Alan Bates played Archie's cynical son Frank.
The film was filmed on location in the Lancashire seaside town of Morecambe.