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King Lear Filmography

Since 1909, William Shakespeare's King Lear has been adapted for the screen no less than 15 times. The timeless story of one family's struggle and an aging king's demise resonates through the centuries, inspiring actors, directors and screenwriters to tell and retell it in new and inventive ways -- on the battlefields of feudal Japan, in post-Chernobyl Russia, amid the corn fields of Iowa. According to director Peter Brook, who directed an existential Lear in 1971, there is "... a quality that you find in Greek tragedy, where the worse the events, the truer you know them to be.... And this seems to me present in the whole work of Shakespeare. For instance, take King Lear. Nowhere in King Lear can you find anyone closing their eyes to the cruelty of mankind, and yet the play is not a black existentialist play showing that mankind is a worthless species, nor a naïve expression that all mankind is noble and beautiful. The vertical and the horizontal are there at one and the same time to be grasped if one wants to and one can." Movie versions of this tragic play try to bring these complex truths to a modern audience. Below, from most to least recent, a list films based on King Lear.

A Thousand Acres (1997)
USA, English, Color
Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse
Screenplay by Jane Smiley, Laura Jones

An adaptation of Jane Smiley's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which transposes the story of King Lear to a farm in Iowa where a father, his daughters and their husbands unravel the secret history of their family and its land.

Harold Clark: Pat Hingle
Jess Clark: Colin Firth
Caroline Cook: Jennifer Jason Leigh
Larry Cook: Jason Robards
Rose Cook Lewis: Michelle Pfeiffer
Ginny Cook Smith: Jessica Lange
Ty Smith: Keith Carradine

King Lear (1987)
USA, English, Color
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Screenplay by Jean-Luc Godard, Norman Mailer

A punk-apocalyptic updating of the Shakespearean classic by a master of the French New Wave. After the explosion at Chernobyl, most of the world's great works are lost, leaving William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth to restore the lost artwork of the human race. While on his quest, he finds strange goings-on at a resort that remind him of lines from King Lear. Film critic Leonard Maltin remarked, "Little to be said about this pretentious mess except... avoid it."

Cordelia: Molly Ringwald
Edgar: Leos Carax
Don Learo: Burgess Meredith
Kate Mailer: Herself
Norman Mailer: Himself
Mr. Alien: Woody Allen
Professor: Jean-Luc Godard
Virginia: Julie Delpy
William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth: Peter Sellars

Ran (1985)
Japan, Japanese, Color
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay by Masato Ide, Akira Kurosawa

While director Akira Kurosawa moves the setting to Japan and takes considerable liberties with Shakespeare's text, the story of King Lear remains intact in this international award-winning movie, often noted for its lush cinematography and choreographed battle sequences. Kurosawa (Rashomon, The Seven Samurai) worked on the script for over 10 years and spent over $12 million making the film. In Japanese, ran means "chaos."

Jiro Masatora Ichimonji: Jinpachi Nezu
Lady Kaede: Mieko Harada
Lady Sue: Yoshiko Miyazaki
Lord Hidetora Ichimonji: Tatsuya Nakadai
Kageyu Ikoma: Kazuo Kato
Kyoami: Peter
Nobuhiro Fujimaki: Hitoshi Ueki
Mondo Naganuma: Toshiya Ito
Saburo Naotora Ichimonji: Daisuke Ryu
Samon Shirane: Kenji Kodama
Seiji Ayabe: Jun Tazaki
Shumenosuke Ogura: Norio Matsui
Shuri Kurogane: Hisashi Igawa
Tango Hirayama: Masayuki Yui
Taro Takatora Ichimonji: Akira Terao

King Lear (1984) (TV)
UK, English, Color
Directed by Michael Elliott
Screenplay by William Shakespeare

Olivier was 75 when he performed as King Lear, his last Shakespearean role, for which he won International and Primetime Emmy awards. The film begins and ends at Stonehenge, and features Diana Rigg as Regan, John Hurt as The Fool, and Robert Lindsay as Edmund.

Cordelia: Anna Calder-Marshall
Duke of Albany: Robert Lang
Duke of Burgundy: Brian Cox
Duke of Cornwall: Jeremy Kemp
Earl of Kent: Colin Blakely
Edgar: David Threlfall
Edmund: Robert Lindsay
The Fool: John Hurt
Gloucester: Leo McKern
Goneril: Dorothy Tutin
King of France: Edward Petherbridge
King Lear: Laurence Olivier
Lear's Knight: John Cording
Oswald: Geoffrey Bateman
Regan: Diana Rigg

King Lear (1982) (TV)
UK / USA, English, Color
Directed by Jonathan Miller
Screenplay by William Shakespeare

Filmed as part of the BBC's Shakespeare Plays series, this version of King Lear follows the original text closely.

Cordelia: Brenda Blethyn
Duke of Albany: John Bird
Duke of Burgundy: David Weston
Duke of Cornwall: Julian Curry
Earl of Kent: John Shrapnel
Edgar: Anton Lesser
Edmund: Michael Kitchen
The Fool: Frank Middlemass
Gloucester: Norman Rodway
Goneril: Gillian Barge
King of France: Harry Waters
King Lear: Michael Hordern
Oswald: John Grillo
Regan: Penelope Wilton

King Lear (1975) (TV)
UK, English, Color
Directed by Jonathan Miller
Screenplay by William Shakespeare

Cordelia: Angela Down
Edgar: Ronald Pickup
Edmund: Michael Jayston
The Fool: Frank Middlemass
Goneril: Sarah Badel
King Lear: Michael Hordern
Regan: Penelope Wilton

King Lear (1974) (TV)
USA, English, Color
Directed by Edwin Sherin
Screenplay by William Shakespeare

Cordelia: Lee Chamberlain
Earl of Kent: Douglas Warson
Edgar: Rene Auberjonois
Edmund: Raul Julia
The Fool: Tom Aldredge
Gloucester: Paul Sorvino
Goneril: Rosalind Cash
King Lear: James Earl Jones
Regan: Ellen Holley

King Lear (1976)
UK, English, Color
Directed by Steve Rumbelow
Screenplay by William Shakespeare

Chris Aurache
Monica Buford
Helena Paul
Genzig Saner

King Lear (1971)
UK / Denmark, English, Black and White
Directed by Peter Brook
Screenplay by Peter Brook

Director Peter Brook's version of King Lear is based on the essay "King Lear or Endgame" by Polish critic Jan Kott, who argues that Lear should be interpreted in terms of Samuel Beckett's New Theatre as a play devoid of any consolation, morality or universal justice. Brook shot the film in Denmark, and the hazy, black and white photography adds to the film's desolate atmosphere.

Cordelia: Anne-Lise Gabold
Duke of Albany: Cyril Cusack
Duke of Burgundy: Søren Elung Jensen
Duke of Cornwall: Patrick Magee
Earl of Kent: Tom Fleming
Edgar: Robert Lloyd
Edmund: Ian Hogg
The Fool: Jack MacGowran
Gloucester: Alan Webb
Goneril: Irene Worth
King Lear: Paul Scofield
Oswald: Barry Stanton
Regan: Susan Engel

Korol Lir (1969)
Soviet Union, Russian, Black and White
Directed by Grigori Kozintsev
Screenplay by Grigori Kozintsev

Filled with the sweeping outdoor scenes, this adaptation was translated into Russian, then translated back to English by Boris Pasternak. As a result, the subtitles are eloquent, but they're not Shakespeare.

Cordelia: Valentina Shendrikova
Edmund: Regimantas Adomaitis
The Fool: Oleg Dal
Goneril: Elze Radzinya
King Lear: Jüri Järvet
Regan: Galina Volchek

King Lear (1953) (TV)
USA, English, Black and White
Directed by Andrew McCullough
Screenplay by William Shakespeare

Orson Welles stars as King Lear in this adaptation that eliminates the subplot of Gloucester and his sons and makes Poor Tom a character in his own right.

Cordelia: Natasha Parry
Duke of Albany: Arnold Moss
Goneril: Beatrice Straight
King Lear: Orson Welles
Regan: Margaret Phillips

King Lear (1948) (TV)
UK, English, Black and White
Directed by Royston Morley
Screenplay by William Shakespeare

Cordelia: Ursula Howells
Earl of Kent: Robert Sansom
Edgar: Robert Harris
Edmund: Patrick Troughton
Gloucester: Henry Oscar
Goneril: Rosalie Crutchley
King Lear: William Devlin
Regan: Nicolette Bernard

Der Yidisher Kenig Lir (The Yiddish King Lear) (1934)
USA, Yiddish with English subtitles, Black and White
Directed by Harry Thomashefsky
Screenplay by Abraham Armband

This film adaptation of Jacob Gordin's play transposes King Lear to turn-of-the-century Jewish Vilna, Lithuania. At a family seder, a father announces that he is dividing his fortune among his three daughters and retiring to Jerusalem. He refuses to listen to his virtuous but defiant daughter's warnings, and the scheming of one son-in-law and the self-righteousness of another soon result in his poverty and disgrace

Esther Adler
Jacob Bergreen
Miriam Grossman
Maurice Kroner
Fannie Levenstein
Eddie Pascal
Jeannette Paskewich
Harold Schutzman
Rose Schwartzberg
Morris Tarlowsky
Morris Weisman

King Lear (1916)
USA, Silent, Black and White
Directed by Ernest C. Warde
Screenplay by Philip Lonergan

Cordelia: Lorraine Huling
Duke of Albany: Wayne Arey
Duke of Cornwall: Charles Brook
Earl of Kent: J.H. Gilmour
Edmund: Hector Dion
Edgar: Edwin Stanley
The Fool: Ernest C. Warde
Goneril: Ina Hammer
King of France: Boyd Marshall
King Lear: Frederick Warde
Oswald: Robert Whittier
Regan: Edith Diestel

King Lear (1909)
USA, Silent, Black and White
Directed by J. Stuart Blackton and William V. Ranous
Screenplay by Eugene Mullin

Cordelia: Julia Swayne Gordon
Goneril: Florence Turner
King Lear: William V. Ranous
Regan: Florence Auer

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