This spectacular film version of the award-winning Royal National Theatre production of King Lear stars the immensely celebrated actor Ian Holm. Critics used every superlative imaginable to acclaim Holm's performance in Ki... more »ng Lear when it was first staged. The Sunday Times called his performance, "Timelessly classical, harrowingly modern and unforgettable," and The Evening Standard wrote: "Holm's triumph is indisputable total." The Royal National Theatre production of the Shakespeare classic has now won the award for Best Actor (Ian Holm) and Best Director (Richard Eyre) in the Evening Standard Awards, the London Theatre Critics Award and The Laurence Olivier Awards. Lear, King of Britain, has three daughters: Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. Intending to divide his kingdom among his daughters according to their affection for him, he asks them to say which loves him most. Goneril and Regan profess their extreme affection, and each receives one-third of the kingdom. Cordelia, disgusted with their hollow flattery, says she loves him according to her duty, no more or less. Infuriated with this reply, Lear divides her portion between Goneril and Regan. Eventually the two daughters reveal their true heartlessness and a tragic chain of events are set into motion.« less
"Now a celebrity, courtesy of Bilbo Baggins (the keepcase to this King Lear DVD bills him as "of the Lord of the Rings"), Ian Holm was a great actor long before he was Bilbo. On this DVD he delivers a Lear on a par with the twentieth century's greatest, including Olivier's. But the excellence of this version results not just from one bravura performance, but from an intelligently conceived approach to the play, seamlessly executed by a competent, superbly chosen cast. Of innovative productions there is no end, but what a rarity, and what a joy, when innovation comes across as deeply authentic, rooted in the text and the humanity of the play, as if the new take had always been there, concealed in the text, waiting for centuries to be discovered. One can argue whether Lear should be presented as a "psychological" drama of broken family relationships, and I have mixed feelings about the approach; but if, as our leading Shakespeare critic maintains, Shakespeare "invented" our understanding of human nature, then surely this approach should be tried. And it works to perfection here. Goneril and Regan, the "bad daughters," evolve into monsters of pure evil, but along the way we see, via some remarkable facial expressions that play particularly well on the small screen, flashes of the agonizing pain and hurt that their overbearing father has inflicted on them. This is true also of Cordelia, the "good" daughter; all these daughters are visibly tormented in the presence of their father, though Cordelia overcomes her past through love and forgiveness. What keeps this from being the greatest Lear on video is that the text is heavily abridged. Those who know the play will have trouble escaping the occasional feeling that they are trapped in a "60 Second Lear" from Tom Stoppard or the Reduced Shakespeare Company. The greatest of Shakespeare's lines remain, but how much greater they are when they emerge from his larger linguistic context. At points the cutting even confuses the plot. One gets no hint from this version that the "bedlam" Edgar is only feigning madness; for awhile you would think he's actually gone bonkers."
A Fool and His Kingdom are Parted
John A Lee III | San Antonio, TX | 05/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Though I love the plays of William Shakespeare, I have never been a fan of King Lear. Watching has always been too depressing for me. Even when it is well acted, it leaves me feeling progressively worse. This production has made me revise my opinion.
The story of King Lear is the story of an aging king. He decides to go into a sort of retirement and divide his kingdom between his three daughers. The catch is that first, he wants each of the girls to explain how much she loves him. The two older daughters are fullsome in their praise even if their motives are purely mercenary. The youngest daughter, however is different. SHe refuses to play the game. She is genuine in her love but refuses to engage in the one upmanship. As a result, her infuriated father disinherits her completely. All that follows results from this first act. The king becomes a figure of contempt and the older daughters squabble for a bigger and bigger prize. The result is a civil war and tragedy for all.
As in of of the Bard's plays, there are numerous substories. Most of them here invo;ve backstabbing and the alienation of friends and family. King Lear acts in anything but a regal fashion and his actions get progressively worse. You want to storm out onto the stage and beat some sense into him.
The title character is played here in a very refreshing and energetic fashion. This only serves to accentuate the slide into senility and childish behavior. The other roles are well done too.
This is a Masterpiece Theater adaptation for television. It does not have all of the lavish production values of a Kenneth Branagh film but that in no way detracts from a first class performance.
This Lear is a must for Shakespeare fans and is quite good enough for a general audience as well."
Wayne A. | Belfast, Northern Ireland | 06/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Lear is a play, one of several by Shakespeare, always completely owned and dominated by its lead. Ian Holm is one of those extraordinary actors who can bring tremendous depth and texture to even the shallowest things: witness his work in "The Day After Tomorrow" and, from an acting standpoint, the tremendously underrated science fiction film "The Fifth Element." I can safely say that Holm's presence in any film is enough to get me to see it and I can't say that about any other contemporary actor. He is always a total joy and after many years it's wonderful to see him finally achieving the stature over here that he deserves.
Needless to say, the mere idea of Holm doing Lear is brilliant. Good news is this production scores high marks across the board and lacks the at-times labored self-consciousness of the highly regarded Lear production featuring Olivier (The play can only bear the weight of one old King). Holm's portrayal of Lear's possible senility is not as overt and inevitable, he is more shown as a man who, at the peak of his power, uses that power to deny his responsibility for anything. He wants to be treated like a king without being burdened as a king. Making him out to simply be a senile old fool makes too much of a victim of him, especially to modern audiences. This king is old enough to have reached the end of his ambitions but not the end of his responsibilities--I believe that may be the core point of the play. Shakespeare needed Lear to be an old man because the idea of a younger man surrendering power probably would have seemed improbable, almost laughable, to his audiences without the introduction of a complexifying plot device, an external reason for the king to give up the throne. He'd also be handing power over to inappropriately younger heirs. It would then be an entirely different play.
The Bard may also be saying that senility is sometimes the result of abrogation or denial (to us--broadly--even from an external source) of responsibilities: old age shouldn't imply second childhood but if responsibility is taken away that's all that is left to any adult. In many ways, given our careless and insensitive treatment of age and experience in this culture--a culture sadly lacking in respect for our own wise old men and women--many of Lear's true messages may, in fact, be more than a bit alien for us if the play is presented wrongly. It could be why we tend to--incorrectly perhaps--overplay the senility card.
It's a subtle balancing act for any actor and Holm does a near perfect job of it. What some portray as senility, Holm shows rightly as the confusion of an individual accustomed to having his own way who no longer gets his own way and cannot for the life of him grasp why. Taken this way, the play has spectacular relevance for contemporary audiences, and may actually be about the most currently relevant of Shakespeare's plays. Think of the juvenile antics of the Tyco executives, of Donald Trump, of most of Hollywood, of the last several Presidential administrations. Will there someday be a Lear in the Oval Office wondering why the world has marginalized his or her nation and economy; why simply waving a flag and being the USA in name only ultimately means absolutely nothing?"
C. Scanlon | 09/28/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This version of King Lear highlights the action of Lear and his daughters. The setting, costumes, and minor characters are downplayed so that the viewer can really focus in on Lear and his daughters.The change in setting from a bland inside to the stormy, or foggy outside makes the scenes more memorable and helps to highlight the events that happen in these outdoor settings. For instance, when Lear is outside in the storm, the storm seems to be used as a mirror to show Lear's madness. The film was good. The staging at the end was especially useful to the viewer in tying up loose ends. After reading the play, the movie highlighted many things that may not have been understood from simply reading the play."
THE LEAR JET EXPRESS TOO HEAVILY ABRIDGED; SEE JAMES EARLE J
C. Scanlon | among us humans | 02/11/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"One school of cinema says you start a scene in the middle and end it before the action ends. This we see here. Shakespeare snipped.
I hope and pray the coming Pacino production respects the text, and uses the Quarto written for the King's original Saint Stephen's Day production, not the naked later Folio version edited for groundlings and a later censorious King who did not like astrology mocked. Shakespeare of course ducked the divine prohibition by setting this in pre-Christian Britain. I hope the Pacino version might use the full conflated text as developed by Professor Tucker Brookes in the great The Tragedy Of King Lear (The Yale Shakespeare).
But I have not so much faith in present scholarship and literacy.
Here in this presentation with Ian Holm we have the streamlined, aerodynamic version, which loses far too much in its editing for "efficiency" and modern dramatic theory.
It's all about Lear; we lose the Fool, as did Nahum Tate, but not as much.
This Fool by the way is EXCELLENT, and absolutely correct, the best actor of this and the best Fool of any other filmed . The elderly Lear would neither care for nor even recall a recently arrived "boy" but a longstanding companion like Kent he would dearly recall as part of his psychological make-up, his counselor and medic, as he enters the dark night of dissonance and discord and madness. This is the excellent Fool; unfortunately most of his lines are removed in this express edition.
We also lose the great and long lines of Kent in response to Oswald asking "What do you know me for?" a marvelous and varied response here lost entirely.
Of course no British production permits the wonderful lines: "Fee, Fi, Fo, fum! I smell the blood of a British Man!" which we are only permitted to hear in video recording in Joe Papp's excellent Shakespeare in the Park production filmed live in 1974 with a young and virile Raul Julia as Edmund, and the greatest American Shakespearean actor, Mr. James Earle Jones. This Joe Papp production has the finest edition of the text ever played, as the most comprehensive recorded in any media. No problem. Great actors, and great staging (even if Paul Sorvino was having an off night). The staging makes great sense of lines which otherwise lack clear context. For instance, when the Fool is saying the lines with Halter, Daughter, Slaughter, etc. he is stealing food from the table avoidng her wrath, after she had found him hiding under the table rather than following the King (a great wheel rolling downhill).
In this Ian Holm production, the old Fool remains at the table until driven off, trying to win favor from Albany in order to get a new patron than the mad King, a good choice and true. But then the whole daughter, slaughter, halter bit is cut, and we lose much.
Olivier cut John Hurt's excellent fool and the Ian Holm production cuts this excellent and properly, equally elderly Fool, for some the one character as essential to the play as a Greek Chorus in Euripides, as essential as a good, wise and trusted friend to a great man losing his grip. It is a serious fault to cut him off.
We may doubt the Fool in Joe Papp in some few aspects, but at least he has all of his lines, and expresses them more or less properly, including the most bawdy ones. We are blessed by the Joe Papp production; it is the best we have. It is the one we must see to know the fullness of Shakespeare's Historical Chronicle of King Lear. Rene of the impossible last name is EXCELLENT as Edgar, the best in any production, and plays especially well off Raul Julio's half brother Edmund, and off Gloucester, even as Sorvino fails. I can not speak highly enough about this marvelous production, full of life and reality and of course as a live staged presentation, broad theatrical gestures and costuming and projection despite the clip on mikes (including one strapped around the naked Edgar). Once our government sponsored such free and sophisticated and top notch professional and scholarly theatre in Central Park; may we return soon to this former glory.
I therefore advise you to get at all costs the Joe Papp version at King Lear / Jones, New York Shakespeare Festival (Broadway Theatre Archive) and to skip over this unfortunately seriously, tragically abridged Ian Holm production."