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 »
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 <email@example.com>
As a devotee of this play I was absolutely relieved to find this version is expertly done. Jonathan Miller perfectly captures the dark and brooding nature of the play with an unfussy and shadowy set and costumes.
The acting is by and large excellent, especially that of Michael Hordern who is in my mind an unrivalled King Lear out of the 7 I've seen attempt the part. He conveys the irascible, foolish and finally 'fond old man' with an absolute truthfulness, making the final scene in Act V utterly heartbreaking. Frank Middlemass, reprising his earlier role as the Fool is perfectly cast as one who can chide his master with the right level of Shakespearean humour that never becomes too telegraphed or obvious.
The roles of Kent, Gloucester, Cornwall and Albany are played again very well. John Shrapnel stands out amongst these with his level of tenderness, humour and heroic righteousness that such a part demands. The 3 sisters are played excellently by Penelope Wilton, Gillian Barge and an early Brenda Blethyn. I couldn't help thinking that there was some off-screen rivalry between Regan and Goneril, so convincing was their on-screen chemistry and sparky interaction. I hope this was fanciful, and if anything serves to illustrate how well the two actresses delivered these plum roles.
Another outstanding performance was given by Michael Kitchen as the villain Edmund. Kitchen is an excellent character actor, nowhere better exemplified than in his delivery of Edmund's terrifically Machiavellian and cruel speeches, with a wry devilry and ignobly attractive flair. Edgar's portrayal was sensitive in the main part and intelligent, but through no fault of the actor, the scenes in Act III on the heath became a little overplayed for my liking. It is however a very difficult line to tread between the portrayal of 'madness' and provoking a reaction of laughter in an audience. This would have been less of a concern in the early 17th century when the play was first performed however.
To me, this is still the definitive production and well worth obtaining a copy if you can.
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