The 80-year-old King Lear (Anthony Hopkins) divides his kingdom among his daughters, Goneril (Emma Thompson), Regan (Emily Watson) and Cordelia (Florence Pugh), according to their affection for him. Cordelia refuses to flatter him, so he banishes her. Having acquired power, Goneril and Regan expel their father from their homes. At the same time, Lear’s prime minister, Gloucester (James Broadbent), is betrayed by his son Edmund (John Macmillan).
William Shakespeare is without a doubt one of the most influential and famous writers in the history of literature. His tragedies have been studied and taught in schools for what seems like forever, because they are rich with deep themes and they are all really compelling stories.
Something that is somewhat of a staple in every Shakespeare story though, is the setting. They are all set hundreds of years in our past. However, Richard Eyre’s 2018 television film King Lear changes this up drastically, as it takes place in a modern setting. When I heard about this, I was immensely worried. It seemed like it would be genuinely impossible to tell a classic Shakespeare tale in a modern day setting, as the old times setting is one of the many things that people adore about his work.
Luckily though, Eyre’s film does a decent enough job at adapting this classic story for a modern era. This is by no means a fantastic film unfortunately. There are a lot of things about King Lear that I really did not like whatsoever, but before we talk about all of the negatives, let’s focus on the positives first.
All of the acting here is truly superb, but especially from Hopkins, who portrays the titular character. He delivers every line he has with such vigor and he sells every scene he is in. Whenever he is in the film, he commands the screen and you feel a sense of terror, fear, and intrigue whenever you see his character. That being said though, I found that a lot of this film has dialogue that I just could not understand. There is a ton of fast talking mixed with British accents making for a lot of dialogue that I had trouble hearing, but Hopkins does this the most out of all the cast.
But the rest of the cast is, just like Hopkins, really great at delivering performances here. Emma Thompson is incredibly thrilling here and her character is one that at times, I feared. She was unsettling in all the right ways and I wished we had seen more of her. However, the character that I feel should have been in this film more, especially, was Florence Pugh as Cordelia. Even though she is underused here, she does deliver a great performance, which is what we should come to expect with Pugh. In my opinion, she has never delivered a weak performance and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for her, because it is certainly going to be a bright future.
The story is one that was intriguing and exciting for me, but it did take quite a while for me to feel that way sadly. The first act dragged incredibly. It is a ton of talking to progress the plot along and it just felt like the screenwriters were spoon-feeding me all of the information that was necessary to know. It would have been nice to have gotten some more visual storytelling here.
Also, without spoilers of course, an element about the final thirty minutes that greatly impressed me was the use of color. In the first two acts, some of the colors can be quite bold and in your face, whereas, in the third act, it is much more bleak in its palettes. There’s a lot of monotone colors during the finale which struck me as incredibly clever and unique, especially relating to the film’s overall story and themes.
Although the performances are good, and the story being interesting sometimes, this was nothing more than a decent watch for me. The story took way too long for me to get invested in it, the cinematography can be bland for the most part, and a lot of characters break the fourth wall every once in a while which took me right out of the scene.
King Lear is a great showcase of incredible performances all across the board and utilizes unique filmmaking techniques, but has a story that took a while to get interesting.
Overall Grade: B-
MPAA Rating: TV-14
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Emily Watson, Jim Broadbent, Florence Pugh, Jim Carter, Andrew Scott, John Macmillan, Tobias Menzies, Anthony Calf, Karl Johnson, Christopher Eccleston, John Standing
Directed by: Richard Eyre
Distributed by: Amazon Studios, BBC
Running Time: 115 minutes