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King Lear (1971)

The Shakespeare tragedy that gave us the expression "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." King Lear has not one but two ungrateful children, and it's ... See full summary »

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The Shakespeare tragedy that gave us the expression "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." King Lear has not one but two ungrateful children, and it's especially galling because he turned over his entire kingdom to them. Paul Scofield is an ancient, imposing shell of a Lear tormented by his too-long life as well as by daughters he calls "unnatural hags." At one point, the king looks his eldest daughter, Goneril (Ireme Worth), straight in the eye and declares, "Thou art a boil, a plague-sore, of embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood." These are the troubles not even the best-trained family counselor could ever hope to resolve. Written by alfiehitchie

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Drama

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GP | See all certifications »
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4 February 1971 (Denmark)  »

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Kong Lear  »

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1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The song sung by the fool at the end of Act III, Scene 2 is not present in Shakespeare's script. This song can be found sung by the fool in "Twelfth Night" in the closing scene of Shakespeare's script for the play. See more »

Crazy Credits

Not only is there no music in the film, but there are no "ambient sounds" at all during the opening credits, giving the impression that they were filmed using no soundtrack whatsoever. See more »

Connections

Version of Royal Shakespeare Company: King Lear (2016) See more »

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User Reviews

A fine film, and just as controversial as it ought to be
11 March 2004 | by (Lincoln, Nebraska) – See all my reviews

I have read altogether too many reviews of this film which bash it all to hell because the reviewer doesn't agree with Brook's reading of KING LEAR. To all such folk I would like to say: We Shakespeare fans should positively glory in the fact that every reader (and a fortiori every director) has his or her own interpretation of all the plays. Given Brook's interpretation, the film is wonderful.

This version of Shakespeare's greatest tragedy is not only consistent with itself, which most aren't, it is acted to a hilt. The characters are brilliantly portrayed. The interactions between them appear as the absolute and utter epitome of conflict and love, of the heroic and villainous way people act when confronted with a situation that is calculated to freak a human being out.

My favorite characterization is that of the Fool, who utterly steals the show and who becomes almost a Greek chorus. The way he interacts with Lear suggests a metaphysical mood of "We know exactly what's going on here, don't we?" The understanding between these two is too deep to be expressed in normal language; in the conversation around "The reason why the seven stars are only seven" (which would have struck any of the other characters, except maybe Kent, as a demented sequence of non sequiturs) suggests that Lear knows, at least at that moment, how the story will turn out, and that his attitude is one of "what is't to leave betimes? Let be." The Fool is here a prophet of absurdity, a Dark Age cross between a Marx Brother and Lenny Bruce.

And I challenge anyone to show me any actors who could do Kent and Gloucester better than those who portrayed them in this film. To say nothing of the wonderful job Scofield does with the title role.

Brook's Lear is almost sociopathically unfeeling until disaster begins to overtake him. To be sure, this view of Lear is not mine. But again, Shakespeare's characters are topics inexhaustible, and there is no such thing as a Lear to end all Lears. Whether one agrees with Brook or not, he carries his idiosyncratic reading off brilliantly---just as brilliantly as Laurence Olivier and Ian Holm in their utterly un-Brookish TV versions. I say: Let it ride! Let's have as many defensible and indefensible Lears as possible, and let's have them as utterly contradictory of each other as the 1945 and 1991 film versions of Henry the Fifth are.

By the way, I am a recent convert to this position. Before I saw the light, I was (for example) utterly ticked off at Kenneth Branagh's film of HAMLET, because it portrayed the Prince as having had sex with Ophelia way back when, and because its Fortinbras was an uncultured creep who dissed Hamlet by tearing down his father's monument. Wasn't it obvious that the text utterly contradicts both notions? Yep! But Branagh would have every right to say to me, "The hell with you, go make your own film." And so would Brook to his critics.

See it, friend. I look forward to our friendly argument.


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