September 10, 1979 12:00 PM

After his colorful but quirky performances in The Betsy, The Boys from Brazil, A Little Romance and Dracula, it is a pleasure to see Laurence Olivier tackle some serious theater. He does so in this previously unreleased 1968 National Theatre Company of Britain production of the Strindberg play. As a career military man nearing the 25th anniversary of a marriage that has long since crumbled, Olivier blusters, connives and whimpers so effectively that he makes a vicious character, if not likable, at least comprehensible. The rest of the production, though, is less captivating. Geraldine McEwan (Miss Jean Brodie on PBS) fails to elicit the necessary sympathy as Olivier’s long-suffering wife. Director David Giles makes only perfunctory efforts to open up the stagebound action. Being trapped in a room with a couple engaged in mortal combat may be good theater but, Virginia Woolf notwithstanding, it is often suffocating cinema. (G)

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