4 November 2013

King Lear (2008 Nunn McKellan)

King Lear 2008
  • Director: Trevor Nunn and Chris Hunt
  • Based on: Shakespeare
  • Cast: Ian McKellen, William Gaunt, Philip Winchester, Ben Meyjes, Frances Barber, Monica Dolan, Romola Garai, Sylvester McCoy
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Ian McKellan  Extras, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Richard III, The Ballad of Little Jo, Macbeth
    • Frances Barber  Prick Up Your Ears, Friday Night Dinner, Hustle, Twelfth Night
    • Monica Dolan  Never Let Me Go
    • Romola Garai  – As You Like It, Atonement, Inside I’m Dancing, Daniel Deronda
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: November 3, 2013

      This is such a difficult play to perform that I have to confess I don’t see why directors and actors want to do it. It does have some of Shakespeare’s strongest lines on madness, aging, betrayal, abandonment, familial conflicts, death and meaninglessness. It also has some of his most babbly babble and the most paradoxical and unsatisfactory characters.  Lear is a dreadful person and even at his most pitiful I have a hard time pitying him.  He has been such a tyrant to his daughters that it’s no wonder they turn on him.
Well, this isn’t an analysis of the play itself. I’ll try to do that soon on Shakespeare Calling http://rubyjandshakespearecalling.blogspot.com/ . This is about the film.
                      Ian McKellan is always awesome, both in the original sense and as it is used in the current slang.  This role is no exception. Every line is convincing. He is genuinely cruel, mad and pathetic.
                      The others are more anonymous, but strong enough in their roles.
                      For some reason it’s all set in some kind of 19th century Russia but nothing is really made of it so one has to wonder why.
                      The somber sepia toned scenography is effective. I always like minimalism on stage and I like it in this film a lot.
                      As usual though with Lear, it’s the interpretation of the sisters that’s the real problem.  It starts out strong with Barber showing the grief and hurt caused by Lear’s uncalled for curse against her and it’s almost enough to explain her consequent nastiness. Why Regan is so vicious against Gloucester is not explainable in the play nor is it here but the choice to make her a snide alcoholic doesn’t work for me although Dolan does it well.  The big disappointment is the ridiculous, insultingly stereotypical sex bomb aspects tossed into the sisterly rivalry over Edmund’s love. Or, as the case actually is, his sexual favors.  It just doesn’t work.
                      This is, in other words, more of a mixed bag than Trevor Nunn usually offers. He usually pulls things together to be strong and gripping.  He does so here too but it’s too little and too late. It’s a disappointment in spite of its merits.  But maybe it’s unreasonable of me to expect a movie to make this impossible play work.

2 ¾ * of 5


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