Great Performances: Season 37, Episode 12

King Lear (25 Mar. 2009)

TV Episode  -   -  Biography | Drama | Music
8.4
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Ratings: 8.4/10 from 223 users  
Reviews: 3 user | 1 critic

King Lear decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom between his three daughters.

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Title: King Lear (25 Mar 2009)

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Cast

Episode cast overview, first billed only:
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William Gaunt ...
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Ben Meyjes ...
Edgar
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...
...
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Guy Williams ...
Julian Harries ...
John Heffernan ...
Russell Byrne ...
First Gloucester Servant / Doctor
David Weston ...
A Gentleman
...
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Storyline

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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25 March 2009 (USA)  »

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1.66 : 1
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Trivia

During previews of the stage production, Frances Barber injured her leg, and was replaced for a considerable time by her understudy Melanie Jessop. See more »

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Version of King Lear (1987) See more »

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User Reviews

 
All right, but not stellar
20 April 2009 | by See all my reviews

Except for his wonderful Twelfth Night movie, I must admit I've never really been impressed with Trevor Nunn's Shakespeare productions. They are too "heavy"; too pensive (despite the frequent emphasis on songs), and just too dull. Hate to say it, but that's the effect they have on me. What a yawn-fest his Merchant of Venice was! Can that play no longer be a comedy? It was far too serious in Al Pacino's 2004 version, too. I'm glad the Globe's 2007 production of it was properly comical!

Anyway, Nunn now tackles Lear, with Britain's second-greatest living actor in the title role (no. 1, to my mind, is Derek Jacobi, who to my knowledge has however never played Lear). It should have been good. And I suppose it is fair. McKellen's Lear is competent, but it falls short of being compelling, and ends up, like the rest of the cast, being merely passable. There is nothing really special here to distinguish this production. The Fool is good (good one, McCoy!), Kent is good (although one wonders if Nunn missed the point of what Kent says just before "His countenance likes me not", since he rather strangely threw those lines out), Edgar is good, Cordelia is good (although Garai's stage time is so minuscule that you could be forgiven for not recalling her presence at all), but the rest could all have been culled from some run-of-the-mill theater production without any particular vision. Nunn may have a vision here, but I'm certainly hard put to see it. If it's there, it doesn't come clearly across. Clocking in at nearly three hours, there's just not enough good and innovative theater here to hold the attention. Yawning and boredom creeps in.

Because of the good performances by some (though one only slightly above average by McKellen), I will be gracious and magnanimous and rate this production a 7 out of 10. I dare say it barely deserves it. Then again, putting on a good King Lear is difficult indeed. Many have tried, most have failed. I'm looking forward, of course, to the upcoming Hopkins version, hoping against hope that it might beat the 1983 Olivier version as the best yet. Olivier was a fantastic Lear (with the great mane of white hair he's supposed to have), and John Hurt was an astonishingly successful Fool. Kent and Gloucester were superb. Edgar and Edmund both were perfect. This is going to be the one to beat, or even live up to, for any future Lear production - unless of course something really innovative and unusual were to be tried, as with Taymor's Titus.

I will of course need to watch this Nunn Lear again once or twice, to assure myself that it really is as average as I felt on the first watching, but, I have many other things to watch, so it won't be anytime soon. Not a historic version, this.


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