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on 3 March 2007
At first, I was disppointed. The abdication scene seems lacklustre - Lear seems hardly bothered when Cordelia refuses the love test. He doesn't rage, and doesn't appear to be in pain. It is only as time goes on that you realise he has wielded absolute power for so long that he doesn't need to rage - he commands and it is done. His rage and madness come when he no longer has any power. The film is set in some bleak, northern tundra which is highly appropriate and evocative - it seems to be a permanent twilight. The best aspect of the film is the microscopic attention to the text - unlike many Shakespeare adaptations, there are no incomprehensible passages. Every word strikes home, especially in the second half when Paul Scofield's performance gives Lear tremendous humanity and dignity. His meeting on the beach with Gloucester is worth watching again and again. The fool is the highlight of the first half - again, every word is delivered with precision, like when he says "Does though know why a snail has a shell? Why, to put his head in, not to give it away to his daughters and leave his horns without a case." The fool looks away as if he has said nothing of consequence and Lear stares at him with an expression caught between laughter and cursing. No Shakespeare adaptation is definitive - if the text is important to you, rather than clever re-interpretation and production, then you'll be rewarded by this film. But check out the Olivier and Richard Eyre (Ian Holm as Lear) versions as well.
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on 16 June 2001
Peter Brook, one of the greatest theatrical directors of all time, directs King Lear, arguably the greatest play of all time, by surely the greatest playwright of all time. But those credentials alone are not always enough to guarantee that a film made with them in combination will succeed. In this case, however, the results are brilliant. Spare, harsh, quivering with life, this film is Beckettian in its imagery, and innovative in its photography, unified in its tone, and demonically vital in its acting. I venture to say that the other reviewer who thought that the camera moved about too quickly is probably jostled by bumpy train rides. This film is true to the essence of Lear as I perceive it. See for yourself, and go see some theater sometime soon, as well.
Another note, I've been searching for a copy of this film in America for eight years. Thanks Amazon UK!
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on 22 April 2008
This is Lear in a completely different light from any other version, I think that much can be guaranteed. Whether or not you like it probably depends on how orthodox you are in terms of Shakespeare, but as for me, I find I prefer this version to, say, the much praised Michael Hordern one. This is lean, mean Lear, stark and brooding and focusing very much more on the psychology than on outwardly events. I find that I think of it as the essence of the play. It's intense, even intrusive in its psychological examination of the characters, and the title role is made even more demanding because of it. Only an actor of Scofield's calibre could pull it off, and he does so in what must be the greatest performance of his film career.
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on 9 October 2001
I've seen many productions of King Lear and hated them all. Except this one. It has been said that Lear is so full of poetic imagery that to stage it is to reduce it. In this film the production environment is not in competition with the verbal imagery. Rather, the power of the text is given full rein in stunning performances, in particular that of Paul Scofield, an actor of breathtaking skill, emotional depth and humility. Full accolades must go to Scofield, with his craggy face, startling eyes and suitably moody performance. He has been my favourite Shakespearean actor for thirty years. Forget Olivier! Scofield's delivery of the text is sublime. Brook's sparse settings and his choice to ignore traditional cinematic conventions evoke Brecht at his best. Ever searching for the real play under the paraphenalia of conventional Shakespearean production, Brook has given us a gem. This is a classic amongst classics.
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on 13 June 2010
The great Ingmar Bergman never got around to directing KING LEAR, but if he had the results might have looked something like this. Peter Brook, whose original stage production was influenced by the "theatre of cruelty" theories of Antonin Artaud, transferred that bleak outlook boldly unto film in this stark black and white version which was shot entirely on location in Denmark. The extremely strong cast includes Irene Worth, Patrick Magee, Alan Webb, Jack MacGowran as the Fool and the inimitable Paul Scofield as Lear. Borrowing a page from Charles Laughton's 1956 Lear performance at Stratford, Scofield takes a quiet, smoldering approach to the character which clearly shows a man who is used to being in control so he doesn't have to shout. The famous mad scene is underplayed as Lear internalizes his rage and frustration at what has happened to him. The blinding of Gloucester, done from his point of view, is harrowing. The night Kent spends in the stocks, Edgar and Edmund's final confrontation and Goeneril's brutal death, help to drive home this bleakest of all Shakespeare's plays.

I first saw this movie when it first came out in the early 1970s in the wake of a rash of Shakespearean movies spurred on by the success of Zeferelli's ROMEO & JULIET. It was a slap to the face, a punch to the gut and I have never forgotten it. I always envisioned it as part of a double bill along with Roman Polanski's bloody color version of MACBETH which was shot on location in Wales and released the same year (1971). No one would leave the theater the same as when they came in. Try out the twin bill for yourself in the comfort and sanctuary of your own home. This is certainly not a LEAR to everyone's taste but it is certainly the most cinematic especially when compared with the much better known Olivier version. The text has been shortened and altered but unless you're very familiar with the play, you wouldn't be able to tell. Once seen, Scofield's Lear cannot be forgotten. This is a performance for the ages and it deserves to be better known. For those not well versed in the play, using the subtitles is essential.
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on 29 May 2000
Peter Brooke's King Lear, though totally engaging in its own right, is made sublime by Paul Schofield's performance. A stark siberian desert is the backdrop to Shakespeare's epic tale of jealousy, murder and self discovery. This film renders Olivier's version diminuitive and limp in comparison-it is one of the best shakespeare film versions around.
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on 5 January 2008
Peter Brook used characteristic boldness in transferring his controversial, yet acclaimed stage production to the screen. Filmed entirely in rural Denmark, the bleak landscape echoes the pessimism of Brook's intepretation which follows the gloomiest version of the three texts which have survived. Indeed this production probably inspired critics to take a look at the texts again and many theatre practitioners have since abandoned the view that productions need to be compilations of all three and view each version as a play in its own right, each representing a different stage in Shakespeare's writing career. Brook's version is therefore a seminal one and it is good that there is a record of it. It will soon be forty years since this film was shot and, even those who disagree with Brook's reading, should surely be pleased to see the performances by actors many of whom are no longer with us. Jack Macgrowan, for instance, plays Lear's Fool with a delicate balance between the abject underdog and the king's chief critic and mentor. This is a production that has peeled away all superficialities to challenge us with the most important questions on identity and personal integrity.
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on 22 December 2012
I came to this not knowing the story. I'm a great fan of Scofield in film who was so brilliant in A Man for all Seasons and the Train. I was however soon feeling dismayed because the film is shot in black and white and is very grainy and with very poor quality lighting. Also at the opening Scofield speaks in old English as you'd expect but mumbles to the extent where its difficult to follow of the plot. Not having seen King Leer before or read it I found this quite distressing. The story is quite depressing as you probably already know but the sets emphasis the tragegy and are, especially at the latter part of the film, full of dark grimy scenes with raggedy people dragging themselves around in the mud. The whole effect was certainly not inspiring. I dislike writing negative reviews which often attract negative comments and have since read the scope of the play in modern english and will undoubtedly enjoy it more on a second viewing but I would suggest this film is more for the Shakespearean expert rather than the novice.
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I must admit that although I have read King Lear many times I have never seen a performance of the play or a film version before. I got this one as I was reliably led to believe that this is arguably the best film version to date. I would not say that this was the definitive version, but it does come up there with something that most definitely should not be missed.

Peter Brook's film was shot entirely on location in Denmark and with the stark scenery plus it being shot in black and white this adds a haunting undertone to the whole story. Admittedly there are some more experimental shots (this was 1970) that some viewers may not like, but on the whole they do not detract. A lack of soundtrack also helps add to the film, making it more bleak and minimalist and adding to the general atmosphere.

Although when I read King Lear I read Lear with more passion Paul Scofield's Lear is more menacing. He plays the role sublimely, going from world weary king to madman in a subtle but terrifying way, and it is no wonder that when RSC actors are asked about the best actor playing a role his performance of Lear always comes off tops.

The whole film concentrates more on the language of Shakespeare and thus the psychology of the charaters can be better felt, with the bleak landscape and scenery this film is truly haunting and sears itself into your soul. Brook most definitely shows here why King Lear is one of the best, if not the best play in the world. I would recommend anyone to watch this and see this most haunting of tragedies unravel before their eyes.
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on 20 February 2012
Not had time to watch the DVD all the way through yet (wait, read on!) but the segments I have watched are superb! Doing a Shakespeare module in my third year of my degree course we have been asked to view extracts from performances (hence why I haven't viewed this in its entirety yet!)

The blinding of Gloucester is always a powerful and emotive scene in any production, but this version is somewhat different from others as it is reminiscent of many 60's/70's horror movies with its visceral sound effects and camera movement. In fact, as the camera pans away during the scene one is reminded of Quentin Tarantion's infamous ear scene in "Reservoir Dogs"!

Okay, some scenes seem a bit ott... too much focus on violence and a relish in suffering... but for sheer emotive force, this is epic! Cordelia's death... wow... horrific and beautiful! That scene alone is worth the price of the DVD!

Would I watch it if I wasn't doing a degree? Maybe not. This is probably best for students now as other productions are more watchable (Trevor Nunn) but for a student this is great DVD as the scenes are powerful and give us poor students something to write about! It is good and worth a look, some clips on Youtube available, but picture quality is better via DVD.
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