King Lear (TV Movie 2008) Poster

(2008 TV Movie)

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Ian McKellen's Hard Hitting Tolstoyan Lear Features A Sizzling Young Cast!
Dan1863Sickles15 March 2014
This is the best televised KING LEAR I've seen since Laurence Olivier's spectacular all-star version in the mid-Eighties.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Ian McKellen shines as King Lear, both tearful and noble, and Romola Garai is radiant and tender as Cordelia. Frances Barber and Monica Dolan are both deliciously desirable and genuinely menacing as the scheming sisters, Regan and Goneril. Sylvester McCoy is a touching and witty fool, and Philip Winchester is a dangerously seductive Edmund.

Another reviewer raised an interesting question: in what era does this KING LEAR take place? Laurence Olivier's classic version was set in ancient England, with Stonehenge like backdrops and characters resplendent in heavy Celtic ornaments of gold and silver.

This story, however, is clearly meant to be set in Czarist Russia. Lear's hundred knights are re-imagined as singing, dancing, somersaulting Cossacks. His daughters wear delectable ball gowns. And Lear himself is clearly patterned on real-life Russian author Leo Tolstoy. The intriguing question is why Trevor Nunn went this route.

The answer lies in a classic literary essay, "Lear, Tolstoy and The Fool" by George Orwell. Orwell recounts how, in his last years, the one-time womanizer and literary lion Tolstoy became savagely puritanical, renouncing not only sex and alcohol but the literary classics of his youth. He even wrote a religious pamphlet denouncing Shakespeare as a depraved and immoral writer of the decadent past! Orwell does not mock Tolstoy for his opinions, but he does engage in some fascinating speculation about Tolstoy's hatred of Shakespeare. He points out that the last years of Tolstoy's life actually parallel the story of King Lear in uncanny detail. Just like Lear, Tolstoy attempted to renounce his privileges and power as a member of the Russian nobility. His children turned against him when he attempted to give away the family fortune to the poor. He fled from his own lands and died in poverty, accompanied by one faithful daughter.

All this makes for fascinating viewing, but in the final analysis it's the acting and directing that make this production a classic. The intimate use of the camera allows the viewer to go in depth with characters who are usually played as one dimensional monsters. Watch the way Monica Dolan's Regan reaches for her wine cup whenever she's nervous or upset, and you can easily understand what causes her eventual downfall. Watch how Goneril's henchman Oswald turns his back when Goneril is making out with handsome Edmund. Notice how the King of France is exasperated when Cordelia looks to Burgundy instead of him after Lear denounces her as an outcast. All of these characters grow in this sensitive film presentation of Shakespeare's greatest play.
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An excellent King Lear with a great cast
TheLittleSongbird24 August 2012
King Lear is a play I do know reasonably well, I had to study it in English as part of the topic themes of love of various poems, plays and books. Though I am more familiar with other Shakespeare plays. This King Lear is excellent, slightly superior to Olivier's version which apart from the music was great. One here though may wish for sets that gave you a better idea of where the production was meant to be set. Although I didn't think the production values looked too bad I was rather confused to where it was supposed to be set.

Trevor Nunn's stage direction is very effective, it is lively in pace yet manages to give the play the right amount of poignancy and intensity it should. The picture and sound are crisp and clear. The dialogue as always with Shakespeare is brilliant, both poetic and haunting in King Lear and coming across as that here as well. The performances from a great cast are on the most part spot on. Ian McKellen is pitch-perfect as Lear. I do remember it did take some time when I was studying it to feel genuine sympathy throughout for the character(I do agree the way he is in the first act may put some people off, especially if you are not familiar with the play beforehand). McKellen however does make you feel sympathy for him, his quieter and perhaps more intimate moments are suitably gentle and moving, and the character's intensity is intense.

Romola Garai's Cordelia more than holds her own, I was genuinely moved by her also. I have also rarely seen a better played Fool than Sylvester McCoy, sometimes he is hilarious but at the same time, mainly because of the Fool's heartfelt sympathy to Lear, he does make the audience make us feel for him, his fall is very tragic and we do feel it. In contrast, there is a suitably evil Goneril from Frances Barber who also gives the character depth. As well as a fine performance from Ben Meyjes as Edgar, his madness is very convincing, he handles the many complexities of the character better than most and his aiding with Gloucester's fall proves to be really quite poignant.

Jonathan Hyde shows great loyalty as Kent. Phillip Winchester is not the most subtle of Edmunds, though in fairness trying to give subtlety to a psychopathic role is not easy, but you do clearly see his deviousness and for me this is an Edmund that truly gets under your skin. William Gaunt is fine as Gloucester, as mentioned his fall is movingly done on all counts. Overall, the cast do much to make this production of King Lear as successful as it turned out to be. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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The best so far, methinks
kaaber-21 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I have a problem with Shakespeare's "King Lear". Lear behaves so idiotically in the first scene that it's hard to feel sorry for him in the rest of the play. I've seen Olivier, Orson Welles and Patrick Magee (who played Lear as Winston Churchill), and I think three or five others on film, and at least five on stage, and I've always thought that Lear got his comeuppance. I began to think that it was due to the fact that I'm Scorpio, and hence implacable.

But I have to hand it to Ian McKellen (whose performance of Macbeth back in the 70s I positively loathed) - his Lear in this Trevor Nunn production touched my heart. I believe what convinced me was that Lear, already in the opening scene, was so childishly emotional about Cordelia's sass that it sanctions his behavior - he's already half-mad. In this production, Lear does not go from sane to mad at the hands of his daughters; they just give him a slight push in the wrong direction. And actually, this production convinced me that this is what Shakespeare intended, too: Goneril and Regan do hint at Lear not being all there, even before he officially goes mad. I've never seen it before, so hats off to Nunn.

And as for Gandalf McKellen: his Lear is expertly underplayed, as are several of the other characters (save Edmund and Edgar who remain true to the traditional British tendency to overact and over-articulate Shakespeare and to play great passions by always spitting out the syllables one at a time in a way that's reminiscent of voice coach Mrs. Patrick Campbell in the 1920s).

But on the whole - and while we're waiting to see how Radcliffe's and Pacino's Lear pans out - this is the King Lear you should see.
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Ian McKellan as King Lear - Outstanding
The-Sarkologist11 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This is a video production of a recent Royal Shakespeare Company performance of the play. I had heard about it because a friend of mine was living in London once (a little jealous) and told me that she had gone to see a performance of King Lear in which Ian MacKellan played the lead role (very jealous). So, when I discovered that this video was available on Amazon I bought it immediately. Generally I have not appreciated many of the play to television performances, especially the old BBC releases because they tend to take a very minimalist approach. While I find the minimalist approach on stage to be very good (most Shakespeare productions that I have seen to date have all taken the minimalist approach to scenery, but they also spend a lot of detail on the costumes). When it comes to movies based on Shakespearian plays, I do tend to prefer better scenery.

It is difficult to determine the period that Nunn has set his version of the play, though the costumes tend to suggest early 20th century, though my understanding of Shakespeare is that the period is generally timeless. Normally when plays were performing, contemporary costumes were used, however I have noticed that a lot of the movies (and plays) these days tend to have a period set at least prior to World War II. Obviously in Shakespeare's time there were no guns so there generally is no reference to firearms, however many of the plays at the time are very minimalistic on the description front, and only very important actions are mentioned. It is interesting to compare a written form of a play by Shakespeare, which would have minimal directions, to say Bernard Shaw, who extravagantly describes the scenery in his plays.

This time watching through Lear what I noticed was how Edmund is manipulating the situation to his own advantage. He is a bastard and thus has no entitlement of anything, but through his scheming and intrigue, he carefully removes everybody that could be a threat to his rise to power, and then brings himself close to both of the sisters (which would raise him to the position of king). King Lear is also a very bleak play, one in which the ending has the stage floor littered with bodies. In a normal Hollywood production, the invasion by the French would have been successful, in that we understand that Cordellia and the King of France are good people, where are the other sisters and Edmund are scheming manipulators. However, they do not win, they lose, and further, they are also imprisoned. It is only when Edgar finally confronts his wicked half-brother that they are freed, but by that time it is already too late. Both Goneril and Regan are dead, and Cordelia has been hung. To be honest, rewriting the ending so that Cordelia survives, to me, completely destroys the play.
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An Old man comes to his sense and brings me to tears
tmashuk3 December 2014
If you want to understand the nature of human beings, or want to make a list what kind of humans there are, watch King Lear.

Human folly, betrayal, misunderstanding, treachery, infidelity, kindness, faithfulness, bravery, and so on.

Of the episodes, the scene where King Lear meets his daughter Cordelia and comes to senses brings me to tears when he says He is old and foolish. That performance! If not watched I think a person will miss something in her/his life.

I think Shakespeare had put everything he had in writing this play. This is the most engaging and deeply moving play after the Greek Oedepus plays.

I sincerely pray for the people who took such pain portraying characters of this drama.
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A very interesting production, and McKellen is great
gcsman5 August 2018
King Lear has generated more movie versions than most Shakespeare plays, and it's not hard to see why. The dialog (particular in the hands of first-rate actors) is direct and powerful, and there are lots of scenes that are quite cinematic in nature. This one, from 2008, has the look and feel of a live-stage production (which it was) but just without the theater audience. The sets are quite simple and spare, so it doesn't have the advantages of bigger-budget movie Shakespeares like Branagh's Henry V or Much Ado About Nothing, Taymor's The Tempest, or Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet.

But the compensating advantage is that without lavish sets and scenery you can concentrate on the actors and their roles. Ian McKellen leads this cast, justifiably so, and turns in a Lear that sticks in the memory. It's complex, nuanced, and entirely believable as the journey of a man who painfully acquires self-knowledge very late in life. I've seen very fine versions of Lear on live stage including Christopher Plummer, Brian Bedford, William Hutt, and even Peter Ustinov, but McKellen's version really stands with the best.

The rest of the cast is just fine. I want to mention particularly Romola Garai: her portrayal of Cordelia is not the shy child that we often get; instead, hers is a more forceful and aware woman, still young but well beyond her insecure teenage years. She comes across as someone we would really like to know better. Garai's version is perhaps the most interesting one I've seen. So many of Shakespeare's plays have young heroines that we, the audience, so easily fall in love with and desperately want to see succeed -- Juliet, Rosalind, Viola, Innogen, Miranda -- but I think Cordelia heads them all. Even though she is not on stage all that much, once we meet her in Act One Scene One she is constantly in the back of our minds, and when she finally returns to the action near the end it is like a fresh breeze. At last! something good is happening again! Because in the meantime, with Lear, Goneril and Regan, Edmund, Edgar, Kent, and Gloucester, we've been put through the wringer for quite a long stretch.

King Lear is Shakespeare's deep look into the worst, and best, of human beings pushed to their extremes. No single version of Lear does complete justice to everything that's in it, but this version deserves to be in the list.
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