Peter Brook's "King Lear"
August 27, 2012 4:11 PM   Subscribe

[Peter] Brook's stripped-back adaptation [of King Lear]... draws from Jan Kott's insight that Lear, like Beckett's Endgame, reveals a world devoid of consolation, morality or universal justice. ... Brook's is a devastating realisation of the play: a pitiless examination of the cruelty and emptiness that lies at the heart of the lust for power. - Alison Croggon

For a taste of Paul Scofield's terrifying performance, here is the "serpent's tooth" speech.
posted by Egg Shen (12 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Other than a Region 2 DVD and out-of-print VHS tapes, I am aware of no other way to see this film.
posted by Egg Shen at 4:18 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're pressed for time, there's always Kate Beaton's version.
posted by Catchfire at 4:38 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not to be too snippy, but Lear had one good daughter and 2 bad ones As daughters go, one out of three par ...
posted by Postroad at 5:17 PM on August 27, 2012

Peter Brook's adaptation was my introduction to Lear and remains the one that defines the character and mood for me. When I think to myself that it might be time for my own company to tackle Lear, I think back to Scofield and shudder, muttering "Not yet, not yet."
posted by grabbingsand at 7:18 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, Postroad, but the bitter truth is that Cordelia's goodness can do nothing for either her father or herself. Brook is a touch ponderous, but he's right about the play's core of suffering.

Thank you for the link, Egg Shen!
posted by jrochest at 7:29 PM on August 27, 2012

Oh, Lear's my favorite Shakespeare! Thanks so much for posting this!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:41 PM on August 27, 2012

This film has haunted me since seeing it many, many years ago. In a high school Shakespeare class after reading the usual "chestnuts" the teacher asked what we would like to read. I said Lear. He said that it was a little too mature for us high schoolers as the main character was an old man, someone we would have difficulty understanding. But a few of us insisted. And being a great teacher, he led us through the storm and rain and madness, and when the chance to see it as film came thanks to Brooks, I went.

For a more epic tale, watch the film of Lear by the Russian director, Kozintsev. Translation by Pasternak and music by Shostakovich.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:28 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just played MacBeth, and Lear still intimidates. I can stand up to the bloody ghost of Banquo (well, kinda), but the lack of love from an ungrateful daughter is just too much to bear.

I had never seen Scofield doing before, each quiet word like a great axe landing in the deep wood.
posted by dragonsi55 at 3:57 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Never, never, never, never, never" is one of the few lines in literature that brings me to tears every time I read it.
posted by EarBucket at 8:27 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Amazing movie---one of the very few Shakespeare films to take advantage of the French New Wave's innovations to solve some of the dilemas that adapting plays as stage-defined as Shakespeare's to the more literal medium of film. Brook spoke once about how much Lear depends on the ambiguity of the stage: Gloucester's walk takes place on the beach (because Edgar tells us so), on a mountain (because Edgar tells Gloucester so), and on a stage (because we see that). Similarly, Lear's "trial" of the daughters is at once a vision of the Last Judgement and a crazy old man ranting in the rain. All the levels of meaning get lost when a scene is just one thing or the other, as happens the instant you have a literal set or a location. By using a lot of out-of-focus shots, extreme close-ups, jagged editing, and other techniques that emphasize the film as physical medium in its own right (Bergman's "Persona" is also a pretty visible influence), Brook regains the spatial ambiguity of theater.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:59 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Saw the Brooks Lear in college, and it blew me away.
The eye-gouging scene!
posted by doctornemo at 11:30 AM on August 28, 2012

The first year I spent in Britain as an exchange student (I ended up living here ever since), I landed in an English class that was doing King Lear. We started it in September, going through it scene by scene, line by line, and finished in about February. It was one of the most incredible study experiences of my life. (Kudos to Mr C.T.B. Gilbart-Smith, who led us through it.)

I go and see the play now, not in the expectation of enjoyment, but as a sort of emotional cleansing ritual, knowing that it's going to be painful but walking into the theatre anyway. I found moments of unexpected joy in Nigel Hawthorne's Japanese-influenced Lear at the National; saw the young Ralph Fiennes play Edmund in the RSC's 1991 production; found myself actually giving a fuck what happened to Cordelia at the DC Shakespeare Theatre with Ted van Griethuysen in the title role. (In that production, Cordelia was portrayed as deaf, using sign language with the Fool speaking for her-- until, after the battle, her father learns perforce to read her hands.)

My Dad, whose eldest daughter I am, saw the Peter Brook production onstage and has *never* stopped referencing it. I'll send him this link and see what he says. I don't dare watch it yet, lest I find myself emotionally carpet-bombed on a Wednesday morning, but I'm glad to know it's there.
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:19 AM on August 29, 2012

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