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King Lear


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Editorial Reviews

This spectacular film version of the award-winning Royal National Theatre production of King Lear stars the immensely celebrated actor Ian Holm. Critics used every superlative imaginable to acclaim Holm's performance in King Lear when it was first staged. The Sunday Times called his performance, "Timelessly classical, harrowingly modern and unforgettable," and The Evening Standard wrote: "Holm's triumph is indisputable total." The Royal National Theatre production of the Shakespeare classic has now won the award for Best Actor (Ian Holm) and Best Director (Richard Eyre) in the Evening Standard Awards, the London Theatre Critics Award and The Laurence Olivier Awards. Lear, King of Britain, has three daughters: Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. Intending to divide his kingdom among his daughters according to their affection for him, he asks them to say which loves him most. Goneril and Regan profess their extreme affection, and each receives one-third of the kingdom. Cordelia, disgusted with their hollow flattery, says she loves him according to her duty, no more or less. Infuriated with this reply, Lear divides her portion between Goneril and Regan. Eventually the two daughters reveal their true heartlessness and a tragic chain of events are set into motion.

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: Barbara Flynn, Ian Holm, Amanda Redman, Paul Rhys, David Lyon
  • Directors: Richard Eyre
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: PBS
  • DVD Release Date: September 28, 2004
  • Run Time: 150 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0002XVRIY
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,592 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Aging Boomer on October 1, 2004
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Now a celebrity, courtesy of Bilbo Baggins (the keepcase to this King Lear DVD bills him as "of the Lord of the Rings"), Ian Holm was a great actor long before he was Bilbo. On this DVD he delivers a Lear on a par with the twentieth century's greatest, including Olivier's. But the excellence of this version results not just from one bravura performance, but from an intelligently conceived approach to the play, seamlessly executed by a competent, superbly chosen cast. Of innovative productions there is no end, but what a rarity, and what a joy, when innovation comes across as deeply authentic, rooted in the text and the humanity of the play, as if the new take had always been there, concealed in the text, waiting for centuries to be discovered. One can argue whether Lear should be presented as a "psychological" drama of broken family relationships, and I have mixed feelings about the approach; but if, as our leading Shakespeare critic maintains, Shakespeare "invented" our understanding of human nature, then surely this approach should be tried. And it works to perfection here. Goneril and Regan, the "bad daughters," evolve into monsters of pure evil, but along the way we see, via some remarkable facial expressions that play particularly well on the small screen, flashes of the agonizing pain and hurt that their overbearing father has inflicted on them. This is true also of Cordelia, the "good" daughter; all these daughters are visibly tormented in the presence of their father, though Cordelia overcomes her past through love and forgiveness. What keeps this from being the greatest Lear on video is that the text is heavily abridged.Read more ›
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By rj_fc@yahoo.co.uk on June 24, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
Considering the fact that the characters in this 'King Lear' are played by some very well-known actors and actresses in England, I was a little worried at first that it would be spoilt as I had seen them playing several other roles on television. However, the acting, especially Ian Holm as Lear and Barbara Flynn and Amanda Redman as Goneril and Regan respectively, is superb, and you can really allow yourself to be 'swept away' with this production. The only real criticism is that Edgar may be viewed as a little too 'soppy' and gullible, and Edmund as being almost 'caricature-like'. The red sets reflect the general tone of the play very accurately, and the fact that it is adapted for television means that there is the bonus of having the storm scenes outside, as opposed to still being inside as is the case with a few productions. Certain parts of the original dialogue are cut, but although this may be confusing if you don't know the play well, the omissions do not affect the overall power of the play. This, along with the Paul Scofield and Laurence Olivier versions, and Jonathan Miller's 1980 film, is one of the best 'King Lear' adaptations around. Each has it's own individual strengths, but this version is definitely worth watching.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 29, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
I have seen three versions of the play, and this one is tops. Ian Holm is at the high point of his art. I like the way he plays the King, not as a gentle but old man whose age makes him misjudge people, but as a man who has always lacked judgment. We see it in the very first line the king says, when he tells his old friend Gloucester to "attend the lords of France and Burgundy", when he should have had his place at this most important meeting where the king tells his daughters he is going to part his kingdom in three. I thought every actor was well directed, and the filming was done professionally. Some people say the fool is hard to understand. But remember that he speaks cockney: what else can you expect? I have seen this video about 50 times(when you're a teacher...) and still think that just as much as the play is a masterpiece, this rendition is masterfully done.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Wayne A. VINE VOICE on June 17, 2005
Format: DVD
Lear is a play, one of several by Shakespeare, always completely owned and dominated by its lead. Ian Holm is one of those extraordinary actors who can bring tremendous depth and texture to even the shallowest things: witness his work in "The Day After Tomorrow" and, from an acting standpoint, the tremendously underrated science fiction film "The Fifth Element." I can safely say that Holm's presence in any film is enough to get me to see it and I can't say that about any other contemporary actor. He is always a total joy and after many years it's wonderful to see him finally achieving the stature over here that he deserves.

Needless to say, the mere idea of Holm doing Lear is brilliant. Good news is this production scores high marks across the board and lacks the at-times labored self-consciousness of the highly regarded Lear production featuring Olivier (The play can only bear the weight of one old King). Holm's portrayal of Lear's possible senility is not as overt and inevitable, he is more shown as a man who, at the peak of his power, uses that power to deny his responsibility for anything. He wants to be treated like a king without being burdened as a king. Making him out to simply be a senile old fool makes too much of a victim of him, especially to modern audiences. This king is old enough to have reached the end of his ambitions but not the end of his responsibilities--I believe that may be the core point of the play. Shakespeare needed Lear to be an old man because the idea of a younger man surrendering power probably would have seemed improbable, almost laughable, to his audiences without the introduction of a complexifying plot device, an external reason for the king to give up the throne. He'd also be handing power over to inappropriately younger heirs.
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