King Lear (1997)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Tragedy  |   Run Time - 150 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |  
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Director Richard Eyre's King Lear is a daring adventure into minimalism: The set is nearly as spare of adornment as Ian Holm's Lear when he doffs his garments during Act III's storm scene. But the austerity of the set and the brief nudity of Holm serve only to accentuate the naked ignorance, greed, and enmity that consume the characters in Shakespeare's pitch-black play about family relationships gone wrong. Act I opens in an unadorned red room lit by candles and torches and furnished only with a table and chairs; sitting or standing around the table are men and women in plain neck-to-toe black, gray, or scarlet costumes. Though the Eyre adaptation forsakes lavish background trappings, the souls of the characters are richly embellished with the full gamut of human emotions. Holm is simply magnificent as a Lear who tumbles from the zenith of power to the depths of weakness and despair. Victoria Hamilton, meanwhile, plays Cordelia with the right mix of conviction and resolve, and Amanda Redman (Regan) and Barbara Flynn (Goneril) portray the evil sisters first with oozing flattery, then with open belligerence and cruelty. Michael Bryant is quite competent as the "wise fool," but his lines are sometimes difficult to understand. The production aired on television in 1998 after being staged in London in 1997 by the Royal National Theatre. It won the acclaim of critics and earned Holm the 1997 Olivier Award of the Society of London Theatre. King Lear today rivals Hamlet as the most frequently performed Shakespeare play, perhaps because modern audiences understand that it is as much about today's complex and troubled families as it is about the family of a dotty old king from long ago.