King Lear (1971)

GP | 133-134 or 136-37 mins | Drama | December 1971

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HISTORY

Although the onscreen credits include a 1970 copyright statement for Filmways, Inc., the picture was not registered for copyright until 2 Aug 2000, when Orion Pictures Distribution Corp. registered it under number RE-825-363. Executive producer Mogens Skot-Hansen is credited onscreen as Mogens Skot Hansen, without the hyphen in his surname. Several intertitles appear throughout the film, indicating the locales and explaining the characters’ actions. As noted by reviews, the film does not have a musical score and instead features only sound effects, such as the howling wind of the rainstorm, and internal noises such as characters playing musical instruments. The film ends with Paul Scofield, as “King Lear,” sinking out of the frame as he falls beside the body of his daughter “Cordelia,” until only the sky is seen and the screen is completely white.
       Director Peter Brook, well-known for his theatrical adaptations of Shakespeare, first directed a production of King Lear for television. Airing on the CBS network on 18 Oct 1953, that version starred Orson Welles as Lear. Brook's theatrical version for Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) opened in London in 1962 and starred Paul Scofield. Many theatrical historians consider Scofield's interpretation of Lear to be the most insightful and forceful of the twentieth century. Brook and Scofield took their version to New York, where it opened on 18 May 1964. Irene Worth, who appeared in the film version as "Goneril," also appeared as Goneril in New York, and Alan Webb, who played the "Duke of Gloucester" for the London version, reprised his role in the film, as did Tom Fleming, who played the “Earl of ... More Less

Although the onscreen credits include a 1970 copyright statement for Filmways, Inc., the picture was not registered for copyright until 2 Aug 2000, when Orion Pictures Distribution Corp. registered it under number RE-825-363. Executive producer Mogens Skot-Hansen is credited onscreen as Mogens Skot Hansen, without the hyphen in his surname. Several intertitles appear throughout the film, indicating the locales and explaining the characters’ actions. As noted by reviews, the film does not have a musical score and instead features only sound effects, such as the howling wind of the rainstorm, and internal noises such as characters playing musical instruments. The film ends with Paul Scofield, as “King Lear,” sinking out of the frame as he falls beside the body of his daughter “Cordelia,” until only the sky is seen and the screen is completely white.
       Director Peter Brook, well-known for his theatrical adaptations of Shakespeare, first directed a production of King Lear for television. Airing on the CBS network on 18 Oct 1953, that version starred Orson Welles as Lear. Brook's theatrical version for Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) opened in London in 1962 and starred Paul Scofield. Many theatrical historians consider Scofield's interpretation of Lear to be the most insightful and forceful of the twentieth century. Brook and Scofield took their version to New York, where it opened on 18 May 1964. Irene Worth, who appeared in the film version as "Goneril," also appeared as Goneril in New York, and Alan Webb, who played the "Duke of Gloucester" for the London version, reprised his role in the film, as did Tom Fleming, who played the “Earl of Kent.”
       As noted by contemporary sources, the picture was a co-production between the American company Filmways, Inc.; the RSC and Sam Lomberg’s Athena Films, both English companies; and Denmark's Laterna Films, which supplied the entire technical crew, according to a Mar 1969 Var article. In Aug 1966, a Var article announced that with the aid of unspecified American funding, the RSC would be making “three major films in color within the next four years," one of which was to be King Lear , although it was ultimately shot in black-and-white. In May 1966, HR ’s “Rambling Reporter” column stated that M-G-M was to co-produce the picture with Filmways, but no other contemporary source mentions M-G-M’s involvement. According to a 9 Nov 1966 Var news item, the project was to be made for “one-time showing on CBS, then domestic [U.S.] theatrical release,” but an Aug 1969 HR news item reported that CBS "bowed out" when Filmways’ president, Martin Ransohoff, raised the budget from $400,000 to $1,000,000. It was then decided to distribute the picture solely as a theatrical feature, and on 16 Sep 1969, HR announced that the budget had been raised to $2,000,000.
       An Apr 1970 Var article noted that Lomberg, who was British, and Skot-Hansen were responsible for interesting Brook in shooting in Denmark. As noted by contemporary sources, the picture was filmed on location in and around Aalborg and the Raabjerg Mile on Denmark's Jutland Peninsula. In a modern source, producer Michael Birkett recounted that while he and Brook were struggling to trim the lengthy play for filming, they consulted English poet Ted Hughes, asking him to “translate” the play “into his own idiom.” Although Hughes did not contribute to the final screenplay, Birkett said that he helped the filmmakers decide to attempt to remain faithful to Shakespeare’s original language rather than paraphrasing or changing it. In his autobiography, Brook noted that he chose to shoot in black-and-white, which he considered to be “simpler” than color, because the play’s themes are so complex that “if you give the slightest bit of added complexity to it, you are completely smothered.” He added that “in this story silence has an important place, as concrete as music might have in another story,” which is why he chose not to have a musical score.
       DV announced in Feb 1969 that Columbia Pictures would be distributing the picture worldwide except in the U.S. and Canada, and in Apr 1970, DV reported that the picture would be released “first through a major distributor, then Filmways’ Genesis I and II.” Contemporary sources did not list Genesis I and II, however, and Altura Films International, a distribution company headed by Clem Perry, was listed as the U.S. distributor. According to the LAT review, the film, which had opened in late Jul 1971 in London, was going to play for only one week in Los Angeles in mid-Dec 1971 for an Academy Award-qualifying run.
       The film received mixed reviews, with some critics praising Brook’s bold visual style and others dismayed by the cuts and alterations he made to Shakespeare’s text. King Lear marked Scofield’s first leading film role since his Academy Award-winning performance in the 1966 picture A Man for All Seasons (see below). Although Brook had directed several films earlier, including The Beggar’s Opera (1958, see above) and Lord of the Flies (1963, see below), King Lear marked the first time he directed a motion picture of a Shakespeare play. Brook’s subsequent film versions of Shakespeare have been done for television, such as his 2002 production of Hamlet .
       Other versions of Shakespeare’s King Lear include a 1909 short, directed by William V. Ranous; the 1916 Pathé release, directed by Ernest Warde and starring Frederick Warde (see above for both); The Yiddish King Lear , a 1935 Lear Pictures release directed by Harry Thomashefsky and starring Maurice Krohner (see below); the 1970 Russian production Korol Lir , starring Yuri Yarvet and directed by Grigori Kozintsev; the 1983 British TV production King Lear directed by Michael Elliott and starring Laurence Olivier; the 1985 Japanese motion picture Ran , directed by Akira Kurasawa and starring Tatsuya Nakadai; and the 1998 BBC television production of King Lear , directed by Richard Eyre and starring Ian Holm. The play also figures prominently in the 1983 British production The Dresser . Directed by Peter Yates and starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtney, the film is about a devoted dresser who attempts to help his employer, a longtime, aging actor, through a trying performance of King Lear . More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
13 Dec 1971.
---
Cue
27 Nov 1971.
---
Daily Variety
4 Feb 1969.
---
Daily Variety
3 Apr 1970.
---
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 685-89.
Films and Filming
Oct 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 May 1966
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Aug 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Sep 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Dec 1971
pp. 3-4.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
12 Dec 1971.
---
Los Angeles Times
14 Dec 1971
Section IV, p. 1, 22.
New York Times
23 Nov 1971
p. 54.
New York Times
5 Dec 1971
The Arts, p. 3, 44.
New Yorker
11 Dec 1971.
---
Newsweek
29 Nov 1971.
---
Saturday Review
4 Dec 1971
p. 18.
The Times (London)
23 Jul 1971.
---
The Times (London)
25 Jul 1971.
---
Variety
10 Aug 1966.
---
Variety
9 Nov 1966.
---
Variety
5 Feb 1969.
---
Variety
26 Mar 1969
p. 5, 34.
Variety
29 Apr 1970.
---
Variety
17 Feb 1971
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Martin Ransohoff Production; Peter Brook's Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam asst
Cam grip
Grips & maintenance
Chief elec
ART DIRECTORS
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop buyer
Const company
COSTUMES
Cost des
And made by
Cost trmt
Chief dresser
Ward mistress
Ward asst
SOUND
Sd rec and dubbing supv
Dubbing mixer
Dubbing mixer
Eff scored by
Rec with the cooperation of
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup asst
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
Loc mgr
Loc research
Cont girl
Prod secy
Accountant
Master of horse
Asst to the dir
Stagière
Film laboratory
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play King Lear by William Shakespeare (London, ca. 1605-06, published 1608).
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1971
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Copenhagen: 4 February 1971
New York opening: 22 November 1971
Los Angeles opening: 14 December 1971
Production Date:
October 1968--February 1969 in Denmark
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
133-134 or 136-37
MPAA Rating:
GP
Countries:
United Kingdom, Denmark, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Lear, the aged king of a medieval kingdom, decides to step down from his throne and divide his lands and power among his three daughters: Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. The vain and self-deluded Lear questions each of the women about her love for him, beginning with Goneril, the eldest. Goneril, who is married to the Duke of Albany, flatters Lear with profuse declarations of love, as does Regan, who is married to the Duke of Cornwall. Cordelia, Lear’s youngest and favorite daughter, refuses to dissemble, however, and tells her father that she loves him exactly as much as a child should love her father. Furious and mistakenly believing that Cordelia does not love him, Lear tells her that “nothing will come from nothing” and disowns her, giving her third of his lands to her sisters. The Earl of Kent, one of Lear’s most devoted attendants, tries to dissuade the king from his rash actions, but Lear banishes him. The King of France, who is called France and is one of Cordelia’s suitors, proclaims that he loves Cordelia and will marry her without a dowry, but Lear does not offer them his blessing. Instructing Goneril and Regan that he will alternate living with them for a month at a time, and will bring one hundred knights to accompany him, Lear storms away. Goneril and Regan are amazed by Lear’s outburst, as he has always favored Cordelia, and assume that he is becoming senile. Meanwhile, the Duke of Gloucester, one of Lear’s oldest and most trusted friends, bemoans the king’s actions to his two sons, the younger and legitimate Edgar and Edmond, ... +


Lear, the aged king of a medieval kingdom, decides to step down from his throne and divide his lands and power among his three daughters: Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. The vain and self-deluded Lear questions each of the women about her love for him, beginning with Goneril, the eldest. Goneril, who is married to the Duke of Albany, flatters Lear with profuse declarations of love, as does Regan, who is married to the Duke of Cornwall. Cordelia, Lear’s youngest and favorite daughter, refuses to dissemble, however, and tells her father that she loves him exactly as much as a child should love her father. Furious and mistakenly believing that Cordelia does not love him, Lear tells her that “nothing will come from nothing” and disowns her, giving her third of his lands to her sisters. The Earl of Kent, one of Lear’s most devoted attendants, tries to dissuade the king from his rash actions, but Lear banishes him. The King of France, who is called France and is one of Cordelia’s suitors, proclaims that he loves Cordelia and will marry her without a dowry, but Lear does not offer them his blessing. Instructing Goneril and Regan that he will alternate living with them for a month at a time, and will bring one hundred knights to accompany him, Lear storms away. Goneril and Regan are amazed by Lear’s outburst, as he has always favored Cordelia, and assume that he is becoming senile. Meanwhile, the Duke of Gloucester, one of Lear’s oldest and most trusted friends, bemoans the king’s actions to his two sons, the younger and legitimate Edgar and Edmond, the eldest, who was born out of wedlock. Kent, determined to stay with Lear, cuts his hair and disguises himself as a servant. Traveling to Goneril’s palace, Kent presents himself to Lear, who does not recognize him and agrees to keep him on. As time passes, Goneril grows irritated by the boisterousness of Lear’s knights and urges her own servants, including Oswald, to slight Lear’s men. One afternoon, Lear notices that Oswald and the others are very rude and even refuse to call Goneril for him. Lear’s Fool, a jokester who often hides wisdom within riddles, tries to tell Lear that he was ill-advised to give away his crown without assuring that he would be protected, but Lear chases him away. When Goneril appears, Lear reproves her for ignoring him, and in turn she tells him that because his knights are so “debauched and bold,” he must reduce their number and make them behave. Despite Albany’s attempts to restore calm, Goneril and Lear’s argument escalates until Lear curses her vigorously and rides off with his men, intent on living with Regan. Goneril sends a letter to her sister, however, warning her that Lear is coming and advising her not to be at home when he arrives. While Regan then travels to visit Gloucester, Edmond plots against Edgar, whom he hopes to have disinherited. Using a letter that he himself has written, Edmond tricks his father into believing that Edgar has been planning to murder him. While the bereaved Gloucester cries for help, Edmond persuades Edgar that Albany and Cornwall are coming to attack him, and helps him to flee. In the freezing night, Edgar decides that he must uncover the source of the plot against him, and by shredding his clothes and dirtying his face, disguises himself as a “bedlam beggar.” After Edmond pretends that Edgar has wounded him while escaping, Gloucester assures him that he, rather than Edgar, will inherit. In the morning, Kent discovers Oswald delivering Goneril’s treasonous letters to Regan but when he attempts to capture him, he is apprehended and put into the stocks overnight by Cornwall. Upon his arrival at Gloucester’s, Lear is angered to discover that Kent has been punished, but is quieted by Regan, who pretends to be sympathetic when he complains about Goneril’s ingratitude. Regan changes tactics, however, telling Lear that because he is so old, he should be guided by his daughters’ judgment and return to Goneril’s home. When Goneril then arrives, she and Regan inform Lear that he will be welcome to live with them only if he dismisses all of his knights, and in his fury, he vows revenge upon them and drives off in a wagon with the Fool. The carriage breaks due to Lear’s recklessness, and soon he and the Fool are staggering through the countryside during a tumultuous rainstorm. As Lear rails against his daughters’ cruelty and his own stupidity, Kent finds him and the Fool and ushers them into a barn for shelter. Edgar comes across the hovel and Lear invites him to become one of his hundred knights. Worried about his friend, Gloucester braves the storm to search for him, but when he finds Lear, the king refuses to accept his offer of help. Lear insists on holding a mock trial to accuse his two daughters, and as he tires, hallucinates that they, and the quiet Cordelia, are there. After Lear falls asleep, Kent carries him to a waiting wagon, and Gloucester warns him of rumors that Goneril, Regan and their husbands are plotting to kill Lear, and also tells him that France’s army has landed at nearby Dover. After they depart, Gloucester is captured and returned to his home, where Goneril, Regan and Cornwall plan his punishment. When Gloucester asserts that he sent Lear to Dover rather than see their “cruel nails pluck out” the king’s eyes, Cornwall picks up a knife and gouges out the old man’s eyes. Horrified by what his master has done, one of Cornwall’s men fatally stabs him. Outside, Gloucester, who has been told that he was betrayed by Edmond, wanders miserably until he is found by Edgar. The younger man tends to his father, although Gloucester does not recognize Edgar’s disguised voice. Meanwhile, Edmond escorts Goneril, who has fallen in love with him, to her home, and there she accuses Albany of being weak for disparaging her treatment of Lear. In the morning, as they approach the shore of Dover, Lear and the Fool wake in their wagon, and Lear slips out without Kent seeing. As Lear runs off, Edgar leads Gloucester to the shore, and Gloucester asks to be taken to a high cliff from which he can commit suicide. Edgar pretends to take Gloucester to a great height, when actually they are only on the beach, and as he prepares to die, the blind man asks the gods to bless Edgar. After Gloucester collapses on the sand, Edgar revives him and, pretending to be yet another person, convinces the old man to abandon his suicidal thoughts and bear his affliction with fortitude. Lear finds them, and recognizing his former king, Gloucester kisses his hand. As the two old men talk about how dishonest people can hide their treachery behind finery, they are approached by France and some of his men, who extend their greetings from Cordelia. Not understanding, Lear attempts to run away but is gently apprehended, cleansed and put to bed. Meanwhile, Edmond, who has become Regan’s lover, goes with her to Goneril’s, where Albany protests their upcoming battle against France adn his men, who want to return Lear to the throne. Seeing Goneril’s jealous looks, Regan questions Edmond about his relationship with her sister, but he maintains that he is innocent. While Albany then pores over his maps, Goneril writes a love letter to Edmond. Regan and Edmond laugh together over the missive, and Regan vows that she will not allow her sister to steal her lover. Soon after, Edgar kills Oswald when he attempts to capture Gloucester for a reward, while Lear awakens and discovers that Cordelia is with him. Shamed by her tenderness, Lear begs for her forgiveness, but Cordelia assures him that she loves him. The forces meet in battle, with France’s soldiers being defeated and Lear and Cordelia captured. Lear stands defiant, and promises Cordelia that they will be content in prison as long as they are together. Edmond orders them to be killed, however, and they are led away. As Goneril, Regan and Albany argue over what shall be done next, a shadowy figure, clad in armor, challenges Edmond to a duel. Edmond is quickly vanquished, but before he dies, the knight removes his helmet so that Edmond can see it was Edgar who killed him. Grief-stricken, Regan gives Goneril’s love letter to Albany, and the infuriated Goneril throws Regan to the ground, killing her. Goneril then kills herself by striking her head against a rock. Before Edgar or France can intervene, Cordelia is hanged, and a howling Lear carries her body along the beach. Settling on the sand, Lear reminisces about Cordelia’s kindness and finally recognizes Kent. As Lear falls backward beside Cordelia’s body, Kent stops Edgar from reviving him, insisting that the old man should be allowed to die in peace. With France about to depart, and Kent stating that he must follow his master into death, Edgar is left to rule the kingdom, although he states that none of the young who remain will ever bear as much as those who have gone before them. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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