King Lear (2008)

An eminently well-performed staging of King Lear. Ian McKellan stuns in a fantastic turn at the title role, but Philip Winchester also does very admirable work as a magnificent Edmund. Sylvester McCoy also did magic with McKellan, they played very well off each other and it was difficult to take eyes off McCoy’s magnetic performance whenever he was on screen.

The story is not staged cinematically at all really, which begins to hurt it as the story continues on and the static sets and shots become more and more noticeably static. What did impress at first was the way the production takes obvious cues from George Orwell’s essay “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool” that muses on Tolstoy (infamously critical of Shakespeare) as a Lear figure himself. The setting of this staging is in Czarist Russia, with cossacks and Lear’s costuming itself a nod to Tolstoy. It’s a fascinating meta element to add to a performance. I only wish the staging was more visual and cinematic, to bring out the unique elements of that take even further.

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It wheezes and groans eventually in how decidedly un-cinematic it is, but the performances are top-notch here, and for a play such as this, that’s a wonderful thing. Three daughters, and a cliffside.

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