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King Lear (1983)

An aging King invites disaster, when he abdicates to his corrupt, toadying daughters, and rejects his loving and honest one.

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Won 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 1 win & 3 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Albany
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Cornwall
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Burgundy
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France
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Edgar
Geoffrey Bateman ...
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Lear's Knight
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Storyline

Lear is an aging King who wants to retire by abdicating to his three daughters. However, in an act of petty ego stroking, he asks them who among them loves him most. While two daughters eagerly toady to him, his one loving daughter, Cordelia, refuses play along with this foolish charade. In a rage, Lear exiles her along with his one loyal aide who dares to stick up for her. This foolish move works to Lear's sorrow as his two remaining daughters cruelly and gradually strip him of his status and possessions until he is rendered an insane hermit attended only by his fool. All the while, the illegitimate son of another lord is plotting his own ambitions while contributing to this tragic tale of ego and familial cruelty. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <kchishol@home.com>

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26 January 1984 (USA)  »

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Kung Lear  »

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4:3
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Trivia

The last specifically made-for-television production of a Shakespearean play (to date) to have its American television premiere on commercial network television, an occurrence that was much more common in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. See more »

Quotes

Kent: Fellow, I know thee.
Oswald: What dost thou know me for?
Kent: A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch; one whom I will beat into ...
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Version of Kong Lear (1985) See more »

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User Reviews

 
The Resentments Will Build And The Intrigues Will Follow
24 January 2011 | by (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

The foremost Shakespearean actor of the 20th century took on what he considered his most challenging role when he did a television production of King Lear in 1983. Laurence Olivier said that because Lear is on stage so much of the time as the title character and is an old man, that it's an impossible role to play when you're young and starting out. And by the time you have the acting chops for the job you might just be too old to endure the rigors of playing it on stage.

Olivier had retired from the stage in the early Seventies and he would not take on the rigors of a play. But this televised production is his swansong to the immortal Bard. It's a tribute to Olivier's skill as an actor that he gets all the emotions going with Lear at once, pride, vanity, sorrow, and a bit of stupidity thrown in.

The story of the old king dividing his realm of Britain comes from the early days post the Roman occupation of Britain. Lear is a mythical king much as Arthur is from that period. His greatest sin is that he stayed around too long, he's in his eighties and his daughters have been waiting for their inheritance. The Eighties is a decent lifespan for any human, but in those days it was nothing less than remarkable someone would live that long.

Shakespeare also had a more recent example of a monarch giving up his power and dividing his realm. The great Emperor Charles V in 1555 gave up the Hapsburg empire which included both the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Spain and all the lands in the old and new worlds it possessed. Spain went to his son and the Holy Roman Empire went to his brother. They had their problems, but it was sure more peaceful than how it went with daughters Regan and Goneril played by Diana Rigg and Dorothy Tutin. As for Charles V, he lived the rest of his life peacefully in a monastery away from the cares of running a huge chunk of the world's real estate, dying in 1557.

There's a third daughter Cordelia played by Anne-Calder Marshall. When Lear the old fool asks each daughter how much they love him, the other two throw the flattery on with a shovel. Cordelia hesitates with her answer and gets banished in an arbitrary act. Absolute monarchs like Lear tend to act arbitrarily. That's part of the plot.

The secondary storyline concerns the Duke of Gloucester played by Leo McKern and his sons, one legitimate and the other out of wedlock. The legitimate one Edgar is played by David Threlfell and Edmund the illegitimate son is played by Robert Lindsay. Edmund is a calculating villain much like Iago in Othello. He manages to turn the Duke against Edgar, but he's after much bigger stakes than that, wooing Regan and Goneril behind their husband's back. It leads to war and a wholesale slaughter of the cast much like Hamlet.

Lear is a fool and has a fool played by John Hurt. Next to Olivier, he's the one you'll remember in the cast. Back in those days nobility were the only ones who could afford professional entertainment and the fool came on in his Harlequin outfit, say a few amusing things, but listen real close. Hurt sees an observes a lot and he's trying a few subtle suggestions to his master about the errors he made.

Set in ancient times King Lear's story is one repeated over and over again about staying in power too long, the resentments will build and the intrigues will follow. Shakespeare saw enough of that in his time both with his two monarchs Elizabeth I and James I. But he couldn't write about them lest his head be parted from his shoulders. I do wonder if some of the court politicians in those reigns saw a bit of themselves in King Lear.


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