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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 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.
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on 15 September 2014
It is 5 stars for the film but I think the DVD is probably only worth about 3. Superb and haunting visualisation of the play but some of the subtitles appear to be incorrect and there is something dodgy with the film ratio. When I played it on my computer it was like I was watching it through a letterbox... a true widescreen experience! We don't want the bad old days of pan and scan back again but there is something not quite right about the presentation of the film. Still worth it though for the actual film.
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on 28 August 2008
King Lear is a tragedy that had to appeal to Soviet film-makers. It is dense and extreme. A whole world is destroyed in a couple of years because of an unwise decision of the king doubled with an unwise blindness about the real feelings of his daughters. That's dramatic and that appeals to the good old Russian soul. But there is in this play by Shakespeare what we find in all the tragedies of that author: a full cycle of elimination of all the participants in the drama and the future falls then in the hands of some nearly outsider that comes back by chance and manages to survive through the swords and the poison that runs freely in the wine. The new leader appointed by fate is there to clean up the mess, bury the dead and then try to rebuild some kind of a human world. That too can but attract the Soviet mind of old for whom change can only come through a tabula rasa, a full elimination of the past and change can only the result of an effort to reconstruct after the violent destruction of what was. What's more there is in this play a general structure that can only please a dialectic mind: the destruction comes from inside and the third party that comes from outside is defeated by the two parties that are fighting one against the other inside and unite just long enough to defeat the third sister and her husband. But this film is a lot more interesting than just that story we know by heart. It is the phenomenal acting of the actors in a setting that wants to recreate the dreary drab misery of the ninth century and the horror of a constant civil war that ensues the departure of the king. The war does not even aims at looting but just at destroying everything and everybody. The vision is so extreme that we wonder if it is realistic or just a nightmare in the director's mind. In fact it is beautiful and the king is really crazy and his clown is the most fascinating suffering toy I have ever seen in that part. His job is to annoy with truth in order to become the outlet of the anger of others who will make him suffer to regain some peace of mind. And in this case he does not even pretend to be joyful, he is suffering all along and showing it because that is exactly why he is there and that is why other people are appealed to him, to make him suffer if they can but let him live for more.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines
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on 14 August 2015
Although the acting and photography in this film are as beautiful as ever, the ideology behind Kozinstev's direction has aged. The focus was on the people whom Lear, played by Juri Jarvet, has not governed well, and who will suffer anonymously even as he and Gloucester suffer dramatically. We see the vast retinue required for Lear's hundred knights, and watch the effects of the French invasion upon ordinary villagers, forced to fight or flee. Almost another character in the film is the tribe of beggars and madmen at the edge of almost every scene. They surround the main characters and eventually provide a refuge for Edgar (played with a beautiful masculinity by Leonhard Merzin) and Gloucester. This focus on the masses, while occasionally illuminating, took too much attention from Lear himself and the other named characters. This version of King Lear is well worth watching, but cannot stand beside the beauty and pathos of Michael Hordern's 1982 BBC film, which was graced by Anton Lesser's admirable and moving Edgar.
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on 8 November 2012
I've seen the film twice in the cinema over the years and wanted to own it on DVD... so I was excited when this came out. However, the quality of the transfer is awful... low resolution - you can hardly see the expressions on the faces in wider shots. A travesty. We should wait until another company brings out a DVD of proper quality.
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on 27 July 2012
had to buy this for OU course on Shakespeare text and performance. It is a fantastic adaptation of the story of Lear and his daughters, a great study in the nature of madness and the circumstances that bring it about. Shostokovich's score captures the emotion and feel of every scene and you can see the influence the film has had on modern film-makers. Brilliant.
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on 25 January 2016
What a revelation! The vision, the emotional depth, the sense of menace - this is like nothing else I've ever seen in a Shakespeare adaptation. The quiet tenderness & strength of Cordelia (more acted than stated), who re-appears near the end, in a world incapable of accommodating her goodness - that, for me, is one of the greatest moments in film. Yuri Yarvet's perfomance is mesmerising .... and, I think, most true to the pathos of the original.

I appreciate this is not for anyone. It's in Russian, obviously (- why does King Lear sound like it should have been written in Russian?!), with subtitles. I was brought up in the Far East and have NO background in English literature ... at all, I had to read the play several times, with commentary, to get a sense of it. I've done that with the other great Shakespeare tragedies as well, but found King Lear the most compelling. Then, having watched the Peter Brook film adaptation (Paul Scofield as King Lear), which is very good, I was keen to compare this with other versions. I certainly didn't expect an adaptation from Brezhnev's Soviet Union to surpass it ..., but that it did. And discovering that the haunting, minimalistic score was composed by none other than Dmitri Shostakovich, was like an epiphany.

- To think that this had been quietly waiting all these years .... to think how easily I could have missed it! Stumbling across it was serendipity itself. Highly recommended.

. ,
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Ouch. I just got this after reading all the good reviews about this film. I popped it in my computer to take a quick look at the video quality, and, oh, what a surprise. The transfer is quite poor, and, to top it off, the layout of the subtitles is all wrong. The widescreen video is in a 4:3 frame with the subtitles below it. So if you watch it on TV, you'll see the 4:3 width with the much smaller video in it.

I'm going to rip the DVD with Handbrake and download subtitles and see if that fixes the issue. But they could have tried a bit harder.
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on 15 April 2015
it is difficult to read subtitles as they are a bit quick, but it is part of my course to study English Lit, but otherwise quite good
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on 18 September 2013
Fantastic atmospheric film - essential resource for the Open University Shakespeare: Text & Performance course. Second viewing meant more than the first (especially after the background reading).
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