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Program Title
King Lear

Based On
Play by William Shakespeare

Adapted By
Richard Eyre

Number of Episodes:

Filmed adaptation of The National Theatre's acclaimed production of the Shakespeare play. Lear, King of Britain, a petulant and unwise old man, has three daughters: Goneril, wife of the Duke of Albany; Regan, wife of the Duke of Cornwall; and Cordelia, for whom the King of France and Duke of Burgandy are suitors. Intending to divide his kingdom among his daughters according to their affection for him, he asks them to say which loves him most. Goneril and Regan profess their extreme affection, and each receives one third of the kingdom. Cordelia, self-willed, and disgusted with their hollow flattery, says she loves him according to her duty, not more or less. Infuriated with this reply, Lear divides her portion between Goneril and Regan. Burgandy withdraws his suit for Cordelia, and the King of France accepts her without dowry. The Earl of Kent, taking her part, is banished. Meanwhile, the Earl of Gloucester is deceived by his illegitimate son Edmund into believing that his legitimate son Edgar is plotting against him. Edgar, at Edmund's instigation, flees--fearing for his life. Goneril and Regan reveal their heartlessness by denying their father the entourage he requested, and turning him out of doors in a storm. Gloucester shows pity for the old king, and is suspected of complicity with the French, who have landed in England. His eyes are put out by Cornwall, who receives a lethal wound in an ensuing fray. Edgar, temporarily deranged and reduced to a beggar-like state, tends his father. Lear, whom rage and despair have deprived of his wits, is conveyed to Dover by the faithful Kent in disguise, where Cordelia receives him. Meanwhile, Goneril and Regan have both turned their affections to Edmund. The English forces under Edmund and Albany defeat the French. Embittered by rivalry, Goneril poisons Regan, and takes her own life. Lear and Cordelia are imprisoned and, by Edmund's order, Cordelia is hanged. Lear dies from grief. Edgar, avenging Lear's death, proves the treachery of his brother Edmund and kills him.

Original broadcast date

Cast Characters
Ian Holm Lear
Paul Rhys Edgar
Finbar Lynch Edmund
Amanda Redman Regan
David Burke Kent
Michael Bryant Fool
Victoria Hamilton Cordelia
David Lyon Albany
Timothy West Gloucester
Barbara Flynn Goneril
Michael Simkins Cornwall
William Osborne Oswald
Harry Jones Old Man
Adrian Irvine France
Nicholas Bailey Burgundy
James Kerr Messenger
Paul Benzig Captain/Messenger
Martin Chamberlain Lear's Knight

Executive Producer: Rebecca Eaton, Simon Curtis
Producer: Sue Birtwistle
Director: Richard Eyre

KING LEAR/Intro by Russell Baker

For an actor, King Lear is one of the most difficult roles in all of Shakespeare.

For one thing, it is terribly demanding, physically.

Yet it's a role for an old man. Ideally, a very old man -- a man on the verge of senility.

By the time an actor is old enough to play Lear, persuasively his physical powers have inevitably declined. Tonight you'll see Ian Holm in the role. He was 66 when he first played this "Lear" in 1997 at London's Royal National Theatre. And he played it with astonishing energy, even managing to shock some in the audience by playing one scene in the nude…faithful to Shakespeare's direction that Lear tear off his clothes during a violent storm.

What you'll see tonight is a television adaptation of that production. Shakespeare's tragedies are always about great men with human weaknesses that destroy them and almost everybody around them.

Spotting the fatal flaws of this willful old king, I leave to you. But for those unfamiliar with "King Lear," I should probably tell you that it contains parallel stories of two aging parents -- Lear and his old friend, the Duke of Gloucester. Lear has three daughters -- their names: Regan, Goneril and Cordelia. Gloucester has two sons, and the similarity of their names -- Edgar and Edmund -- can be confusing if you're seeing King Lear for the first time.

The dangerous one is Edmund. You'll see him at the very beginning forging a document to ruin his brother.

Whatever Shakespeare's reason for leaving them out, no mothers are present.

The action begins with the King announcing that he's decided to give up his power and divide the kingdom equally among his three daughters. First, however, each will have to tell him how much she loves him.

King Lear.

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