Great Performances

King Lear (20 Feb. 1974)

TV Episode  -   -  Biography | Drama | Music
8.4
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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 »

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Title: King Lear (20 Feb 1974)

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Cast

Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Douglass Watson ...
...
...
Edmund (as Raúl Juliá)
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Rosalind Cash ...
Lee Chamberlin ...
Ellen Holly ...
Robert Stattel ...
Robert Lanchester ...
Lou Quinones ...
Burgundy (as Louis Quinones)
Jean-Pierre Stewart ...
France
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Edgar
Frederick Coffin ...
...
...
Gentleman
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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 flatter the old man in return for favor, he banishes her and turns for support to his remaining daughters. But Goneril and Regan have no love for him and instead plot to take all his power from him. In a parallel, Lear's loyal courtier Gloucester favors his illegitimate son Edmund after being told lies about his faithful son Edgar. Madness and tragedy befall both ill-starred fathers. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

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20 February 1974 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Originally broadcast on Great Performances (1971). See more »

Connections

Version of Le roi Lear (1981) See more »

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A generally fine production
7 December 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Jones is good, it's true. He delivers a satisfactory performance in Acts I and I, but he really makes the role his own when he appears, his wits completely "turned," in Act IV Scene vi. I've seen many Lears who can spew curses and invoke the elements. Few can really pull off "Lear mad," and this, to me, is what makes Jones's performance special.

Cordelia sucked.

Regan sucked.

Goneril was decent.

Kent was decent, but Kent is an easy part.

Albany was good.

I thought Edmund was actually pretty convincing. His "astrology" in Act II Scene I was hilarious.

Edgar. Hm. I think a lot of people are wowed by actors who do a lot of jumping around and shouting. It's true that his physical acting is impressive on stage, but it's not an interpretation of the role I agree with. I live in San Francisco, and I see homeless lunatics every day. That's not how they act. They just don't have the energy for all that jumping around. They're half-present, and they mumble as much as they shout. This Edgar followed a fairly standard interpretation, but for me, I doesn't work.

Sorvino was excellent as Gloucester. He imbued the role with a touch of vulnerability that did so much. Gloucester's actions are rash and belligerent. But Sorvino makes his rashness believable, by showing his weakness and perhaps his own self doubt.

I am always disappointed with film productions of Shakespeare, because they always de-emphasize or even cut out the best lines. In this case, they chopped out the messenger's speech in IV.iii, which is simply the Bard's best stuff, and they downplayed Gloucester's beautiful lines in IV.i, where he hires Poor Tom to lead him to his death. Shakespeare had a way of "hiding" the real poetry in the play. When he chose to really use his poetic talent, he would often put the poetry in the mouth of a slave, a messenger, or some unimportant character. Sadly, these lines are frequently lost or hurried through, and that is the case with this production.

When I saw the cover, which shows Jones and a black Cordelia in bonds, I was afraid they were going to make _Lear_ into a race play, by having black actors play all the good characters and white actors play all the bad ones. Fortunately, they didn't stoop to that. There were plenty of black actors and white actors on both sides of the tragedy. It does make you wonder what the producers were going for. Cordelia is portrayed by a black actress. Goneril is definitely part black, but light-skinned, like Jones. Regan is played by a dark-complected but probably not black actress. Edmund has a darkish complexion. Presumably if the daughters were all white, it would color Lear's threat in II.iv differently:

I would divorce me from thy mother's tomb, Sepulchring an adultress.


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