King Lear (1971)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Tragedy  |   Release Date - Feb 4, 1971 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 137 min.  |   Countries - Denmark , United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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This is not your father's King Lear, which will delight some and put off others. Peter Brook's intense and powerful adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy doesn't attempt to delve into the psychology of why the characters -- especially Lear -- behave as they do. It takes it as a given that their behavior makes sense to the individual characters and leaves it at that, freeing the director and the actors to create one of the most brutal and bleak films imaginable. The barren, cold, and merciless environs of Denmark's Jutland Peninsula, where this Lear was filmed, are a perfect compliment to the iciness, inhumanity, and barbarity that define so many of the characters in the play. There's little that is beautiful in what Brook captures, but there is nonetheless a visual beauty in the film's stark austerity. Playing with his cinematic toys of light, camera, and sound, Brook sometimes overwhelms the text, but almost always (as in the tempest sequence) to stunning effect. Of course, Lear's ultimate success resides with the actor in the title role, and Paul Scofield delivers a wrenching performance that astonishes. When he rails against the forces surrounding him, there is an intensity and force that few could muster; yet, that same intensity and force remains just beneath the surface even in his calmer moments. At times, he savors the words he has been given; at others, he chomps at them as if he wishes they would leave his mouth and leave him be. It is a fascinating performance. The rest of the cast, especially Irene Worth, are also superb. This Lear will not be to everyone's taste, but it's unforgettable.