King Lear (Korol Lir) Review

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The elderly Lear, King of England (Jarvet), decides to break up the Kingdom equally among his three daughters, and agrees to abdocate to the daughter who flatters him the most. When his favourite - Cordelia (Shendrikova) - refuses, the King, in the first of many moments of madness, exiles her, leaving the throne to be fought over by the two evil, older sisters.


Co-directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Iosif Shapiro as a follow-up to their successful Hamlet, this 1969 Soviet stab at Shakespeare has the proper epic look, with a blasted heath which seems more like a storm-lashed desert and plenty of extras holding up forests of swords around huge castles.

However, Jüri Järvet’s Lear is a bandy-legged, somewhat reedy clod who convinces in the mad scene but, unlike Paul Scofield’s 1971 British version, doesn’t look like anyone who could ever have been a great king and warrior, which mutes the impact of his descent into ruin. None of the rest of the large, scheming cast make much of an impression, but the Russian translation — by Boris Pasternak of Doctor Zhivago fame — sounds surprisingly poetical when the ranting starts.

Solid, old-fashioned 'broad strokes' Shakespeare, with some Kurosawa-like spectacle between the big speeches.