King Lear video capsule review: 1974, directed by Tony Davenall [Patrick Magee]

Continuing our video capsule reviews for King Lear

In 1974, Thames Television produced a six-episode TV series of the play. The episodes themselves were only 20 minutes long, so that they could be shown in classrooms. This thus two-hour version was done under the helm of director Tony Davenall, with Patrick Magee (who played Cornwall in the one with Paul Scofield from just three years earlier) in the title role.

So this was a version intended for classroom use…

As a former high school English teacher, I can only say, “Dear Lord! In how many students have you killed the love of Shakespeare with this weapon of mass distraction?” This is the kind of pseudo-educational non-entertainment that gives the Bard a bad name to students.

There is not a single aspect of this production that would appeal to a discerning viewer, let alone a student.

I’ve noted in the past how some of these productions can be stagey (and with very little attempt made to be realistic), particularly the Brook/Welles and Eyre/Holm versions. And yet both of them came alive on the screen. This one obviously tries to make a representational setting on a stage set, but it feels less real and much less alive than those earlier versions. This one is stagey in all the bad ways.

The performances are overdone, somewhere between the declaiming of a bad high school production and the overly gestured motions of a silent film. Not a single actor is immune, though some are worse offenders than others (but I’ll leave those names unsaid to protect the more heinously guilty).

I guess we can only be thankful that the script is as heavily cut as it is. At least it’s shorter this way.

Back when we started this, I said that the Blessed film was for completists only. That one should could skip; this one you should skip, even if you are a completist. Personally, there are so many good versions out there, you should probably actively avoid this one.

You’re welcome: I’m watching these so you don’t have to…

Don’t forget to have an ear out for our upcoming podcast with full reviews of all of the major versions I’ve found!