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"BBC Play of the Month" Kean (1978)

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

One of my favorites at the time

10/10
Author: John Johnson from United States
7 February 2011

I saw this over 30 years ago, and only once, but it has stayed with me all these years. I was in college, and I ranked this Anthony Hopkins portrayal of the actor Edmund Kean up there among my favorite performances at the time, with Derek Jacobi's I, Claudius, Richard Chamberlain's The Lady's Not for Burning, and Jeremy Irons in Love for Lydia.

I think IMDb has the poster wrong, I don't think Chekhov had anything to do with this. As I recall, it was based on a play by Jean Paul Sartre. I remember Alistair Cooke introducing it, asking why Sartre would write a play about an Elizabethan actor, and then answering that Sartre believed one's identity was formed as one chose one's actions, and so in a sense we are all actors, creating our characters as we go along.

This was also the first performance I noticed Anthony Hopkins. He was wonderful. I remember one scene where he crawled under a table, kicking in frustration at the people around him not getting it, the 'it' being his struggle to find authenticity. My favorite bit was when he was on a stage, breaking from script and extemporizing — actor as man as actor, without essence. He said, "I don't exist. I'm not real." and drew out the word 'real' while pinching his thumb and fingers in front of his face, bringing them past his eyes like, oh, say, he was pulling ribbon. I believe his audience was scandalized by the deviation from script, except for one of the nobility, who applauded with enthusiasm. And we at home cheered, especially since at that age we were struggling to come up with our own actions and identities, struggling with the same arbitrariness and lack of foundation.

Well, no telling how memory has changed things. But I think that's basically right, and I apologize for any errors. At the time I write this IMDb has no reviews of it, so I'm trying to help promote this great performance. I can tell you this, with assurance, that Hopkins was full of flair, beautifully dynamic, and complex in ways I found intriguing. I really loved this show at the time and expect I would if I saw it again. Surely somebody has a copy somewhere.

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