Sir Ian McKellen gives a tour-de-force performance as Shakespeare's tragic monarch, in this special television adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Company production of one of the playwright's most enduring and haunting works.
An aging monarch resolves to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, with consequences he little expects. His reason shattered in the storm of violent emotion that ensues, with his ... See full summary »
The Shakespeare tragedy that gave us the expression "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." King Lear has not one but two ungrateful children, and it's ... See full summary »
King Lear, old and tired, divides his kingdom among his daughters, giving great importance to their protestations of love for him. When Cordelia, youngest and most honest, refuses to idly ... See full summary »
Everything returns to normal after Chernobyl. That is, everything but art. Most of the great works are lost, and it is up to people like William Shakespear Junior the Fifth to restore the ... See full summary »
King Lear is an in-depth study of love, power and death. Through this film Shakespeare is saying, "Don't blame the gods or the heaven's for the horrors committed on earth. No. Blame hellish inhumanity on those who inhabit the earth."
In King Lear, Simon Russell Beale extends his perversely impressive record. Having given us the worst Hamlet ever and the worst Falstaff ever, he now adds Lear to his list of negative ultimates. He has three major modes of delivering his lines--shouting, babbling and ruminating quietly--and is boring in all three. Only once does he come up with a novel line-reading. When told that the Fool has pined away since Cordelia's departure for France, he peevishly whines "I have noted it," as if to say "I'm not stupid, you know." It is characteristic that Beale's one attempt at originality should be a note of sour petulance.
Beale's Lear is stumpy, obese and devoid of authority. He shouts his way through the first scene without scaring anyone, and his curse of Goneril in I.iv is merely tedious. (Goneril herself is undaunted by it, and coolly slaps his face in response). Beale typically acts in a vacuum--his professional motto appears to be "Only disconnect"--and his madness as Lear is not very different from his habitual onstage solipsism. Since he cannot convey love or affection, and has no capacity for pathos, his reunion with Cordelia, his reassurances to her as they are led off to prison, and his lament over her lifeless body are all aridly unmoving. One cannot understand why Cordelia loves this man, why Kent risks his life to follow and protect him, and why the Fool never dreams of deserting him. Yet one also cannot understand why Goneril and Regan despise him. There is simply nothing there to inspire extreme emotions one way or the other, except of course among those who hate being bored.
Sam Mendes has directed with his customary lack of freshness and insight. The opening scene is dominated by a dais with microphones, an overly-familiar prop in current Shakespearean productions. Lear murders the Fool in a fit of insanity, just as he did 30 years ago at the RSC (Adrian Noble, 1982). The final scene degenerates into postmodern abstraction, and becomes almost unrecognizable in the process. Edgar and Edmund do not square off in a duel: Edgar simply enters and stabs his strangely unresisting brother to death. Goneril and Regan die onstage rather than off, but the other actors seem barely to notice. Gloucester's cadaver is also lugged in, again occasioning little or no reaction. The dying Edmund does not try to redeem himself by saving the lives of Lear and Cordelia. There are other cuts, yet for all these added lacunae, the scene is staged and played in a desultory manner that robs it of any impact. The rest of the production is directorially unremarkable, and in fact routine.
Finally, there are no worthwhile performances among the ensemble. Kate Fleetwood, a congenitally creepy actress, plays Goneril like a sinister vamp in an old talking movie. Anna Maxwell Martin dishes up a giddy, quasi-psychotic Regan whose blithering delivery is sometimes incomprehensible. As Gloucester, Stephen Boxer gets a surprising number of laughs for a man with a pair of bleeding sockets. Sam Troughton's characterization of Edmund is limited to wearing glasses when pretending to be decent and removing them when not. His lanky brother Edgar (Tom Brooke) appears to be suffering from Asperger's syndrome. He stares at the ground rather than Edmund during his initial scenes, and greets the news of his father's intention to kill him with an almost shrugging carelessness. This autistic insensibility merges so smoothly into the maunderings of Poor Tom that one cannot be sure if Edgar is ever lucid. Adrian Scarborough's Fool, a pint-sized spiv in a pinstriped suit, isn't funny, trenchant, poignant or haunting, but he does have a nice singing voice. The other supporting actors are forgettable, and I have forgotten them.
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