Stratford’s King Lear

What a wonderful performance of King Lear. The whole film rounded out to about three hours, but it was so engaging that the time didn’t matter. The actors, the camera work, and the special effects held my attention the entire time. There was no time when the play seemed to be dragging on for too long, though I did appreciate the intermission. Filming the performance gave them the ability to focus in on certain characters in order to control who we looked at. One of the scenes that stood out to me the most for this was the one where King Lear is dividing up his land between his daughters. Unlike the Ian Mckellen version, there is more focus on Cordelia in the scene even before she says “Nothing”. While her sisters are making their speeches of love for their father, the camera cuts to Cordelia a few times and her reaction to what her father has asked them to do as well as her sisters’ words. She has a few asides that were not included in the Ian Mckellen version which gives her more importance earlier on in the scene and our anticipation of her own speech to her father is heightened. One part I especially liked was when King Lear takes Cordelia’s dowry, this act is emphasized even more by the king snatching the crown from her head, physically taking his favour from her.

Another difference between the Stratford Festival version and the Ian Mckellen version, is seen in Regan’s character. In the Mckellen version she has to be prodded by her husband to continue in her speech of love to her father instead of simply agreeing with what her sister says. This made it seem as though Regan’s actions are mostly caused by the positions and opinions of those around her. In the Stratford version, Regan walks right up to the king and puts her hands on his shoulders from behind as she makes her speech. There is no pause in her words, giving her the appearance of confidence as well as self-power instead of relying on others.

When it came to the effects, it was the lighting that caught my attention the most. Some scene changes were brought on merely by casting the back part of the stage in darkness and creating almost a second stage at the front for the next scene. This worked so that when the back part of the stage is lighted again they can return to the setting they had before without having to take it away and then put it back. The lighting was also used to create specific moods, especially in the case of Edmond. In one of the scenes he speaks to the crowd and the entire stage is darkened except for him, creating a more sinister feeling to his words.

The opening scene to the play was also different from the Mckellen version, as it started with a few homeless men wandering the stage before they’re scared off by a soldier. Perhaps they were using this as a foreshadowing to how the higher class, especially Edgar and Gloucester, end up falling to that level. One of the men also appears throughout the play as a sort of guide to Edgar. I believe this ties in quite nicely with the quote: “Tis the time’s plague, when madmen lead the blind” (4.1), spoken by Gloucester.

All in all it was a wonderful performance by Stratford and a pleasure to watch.

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