Kicking off our video capsule reviews for King Lear…
First up, I’ve got a 1999 film version directed by and starring Brian Blessed. Now Blessed is known primarily as an actor, and a pretty damned good Shakespearean one at that, having appeared in multiple film versions by Kenneth Branagh…but personally I’ve liked the guy since the 70s for work in I, Claudius and Flash Gordon.
He’s got only one directorial credit, however, and this is it:
So, it’s obviously a passion piece. But is it any good?
Well, it’s certainly not the be-all-end-all. And frankly, you know how sometimes there’s something in the make-up or art direction that you just can’t seem to get past? Well, that’s what I have here.
It’s not that Blessed isn’t good in the role. He is. It’s the look he’s chosen for the role. Look, the guy’s never going to cut that great beard, and that’s fine. Greying it up was good enough. It’s the hair. Long white, lank, hanging hair, looking like a photo-negative of 1970’s Cher. And I had a tough time getting over that.
Anyway… to the film at large.
It definitely tries to go for quasi-historical authenticity. We’re talking Stonehenge, caves, dark. That’s the visual tone of the film early on. So Blessed’s almost jolly but forgetful jokester of a king seems out of place. That’s all right, though; it makes his change all the more disconcerting for others.
The script looks to be a conflation of the Quarto and the Folio. And though there’ve been some cuts made, the film still runs a long three and a quarter hours, mostly due to a seeming interminable final scene.
Is it bad? Not quite. Is it great? Not even. Blessed’s pretty solid as the old kind king, and his scenes are a great study in scansion. He’s commands the screen and is almost always interesting to watch. I just wish I could say the same for the production as a whole.
And don’t forget to have an ear out for our upcoming podcast with full reviews of all of the major versions I’ve found!