KING LEAR: NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE. UK, 2018, Starring Ian McKellen, Sinead Cusack, Danny Webb, Mark Corrigan, Anthony Howells, Claire Price, Kirsty Bushell, Lloyd Hutchinson, Luke Thompson. Directed by Jonathan Munby. 210 minutes. No rating available.
This is an impressive version of Shakespeare’s play. It was designed for a small theatre for the Chichester Festival and transferred to London and filmed at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
The film is a star vehicle for Ian McKellen (who had previously played the role, even for television in 2008). He performs this role at the age of 79. He has great dignity and bearing on stage. Yet, at times there is a touch of the playful, a great attention to detail in articulation of his lines, even the plosive sounds at the end of words, and attention to minute detail of physical action, relishing Shakespeare’s undertones of humour.
The play has a contemporary setting, even using the British and French flags and emblems. There are sounds of motor horns of stage, turning on the radio for music, hospital and a drip. And yet, there is also a timelessness about the play, even to contemporary clothes, military dress, women’s fashions mixed with what could have been worn at any time.
There is an excellent supporting cast with the change of the Duke of Kent to the Countess of Kent who is played by Sinead Cusack. Mark Corrigan is very strong as Edmund. Danny Webb makes the most of his interpretation of Gloucester. Anthony Howell is the Duke of Albany. And there are very distinctive, even disturbing performances by Claire Price as Goneril, serious but susceptible, and Kirsty Bushell as one of the most eccentric and provocative interpretations of Regan.
Looking comically modern, Lloyd Hutchinson is the Fool. Anita- Joy Uwajeh plays Cordelia – and, with the military emphasis at the end of the film, and her being part of the attacking force, she is a stronger and more military presence than might have been expected.
The film uses a full text of the play. The stagecraft, though limited in space and possibilities for effects, means that the audience is quite immersed in the play.
This version can be recommended for those who are eager to hear the text articulated clearly and with an emphasis on the flow of the iambic pentameter. It offers clear opportunities for audiences to hear the famous quotations in their context.
And, the film serves as a tribute to Ian McKellen’s acting skills.
Sharmill Films Released November 3rd
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.