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"Aye, every inch a king"
on 19 November 2012
I saw this 1970 Russian, black and white, and largely faithful adaptation of King Lear at a cinema about five years ago and was completely swept away by its vision. This was Gregori Kozintsev's last film, and if you liked his version of `Hamlet', then this is even better. (It's a real shame that Lear has not been filmed as often as, say, Hamlet or Macbeth. But, then, it is a play about wisdom and growing old and would not supposedly attract the `yoof' market.)
Kozintsev's movie has an amazing and impressive opening sequence. And there are more amazing scenes later on, such as the progress of the king in line and his retinue across the flat sands. Castle walls are massive, enveloped in smoke and mist. Meanwhile, the medieval halls are lofty but sparsely furnished, and the landscapes are desolate, with leafless trees where there are any trees at all.
Lear himself is played by veteran Estonian actor Juri Jarvet, who has that something in his eyes that remind you of Klaus Kinski or Nicol Williamson. (Jarvet would play in the following year the part of the disturbed doctor in Tarkovsky's `Solaris'.) My one regret is that in this interpretation there is a lack of defiance - or, alternatively, of grave upset - when Lear is finally brought low prior to the onset of his overt madness at the end of act two. Instead, he bares the gait of a naïf. This works in its own way, but there was, I feel, an opportunity lost here. All the same, I particularly enjoyed the conceit of Lear's fool being seemingly played by an adolescent boy.
This is not a complete performance of Lear, of course, but the expurgations are small. The subtitles follow the standard English text of `The Tragedy of King Lear', but there is the odd (and sometimes unintentionally humorous) misspelling.
A word about the quality of the print on this DVD (released by a company called `Mr Bongo'): the print is not brilliant, as if sometimes there are the odd frame missing. This can be annoying when you are hanging on to every word of the subtitles, but please do not let this put you off purchasing what is a powerful performance. Everyone who loves the play ought to have this screen version in their collection, and the film is ably assisted by an atmospheric score by Shostakovich, his style here being reminiscent of that for his tenth symphony.
Alas, my DVD comes with no extras.