King Lear, Starring Ian McKellen

Full Episode

Short Synopsis

The monumental tragedy of an old king who decides to divide his kingdom among his daughters, but imposes a love test on each to merit her portion. His youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to flatter him falsely, sending Lear into a rage. He withdraws her portion, exiles his best friend, and generally becomes increasingly irrational. Cordelia leaves to marry the King of France. His eldest daughters subsequently turn on him, finally tossing him out into a stormy night. In a parallel plot, Lear’s close friend Gloucester succumbs to the plot of Edmund, his bastard son, who wants the rights of a legitimate son. As this plot develops, Gloucester’s legitimate son Edgar must flee and disguise himself, as Edmund becomes sexually embroiled with Lear’s two daughters, and with them the politics of the kingdom. As Lear rails against man and nature during a violent storm on the heath, Gloucester becomes involved in an invasion from France. Betrayed by Edmund, he loses both his eyes. In this wretched state he attempts suicide, but is spared by Edgar. He then meets Lear in a reunion of madness and blindness – “reason in madness” as Edgar describes it. Next Lear reunites with Cordelia in a moment of sublime forgiveness. But the war is lost. Edmund has Cordelia hung while in prison. One daughter poisons the other, then commits suicide. Edgar kills Edmund in a duel, but not in time to save Cordelia. Lear finally dies over her dead body in grief. As one of those still alive at the end observes, “our present business is general woe.”

Cast
King Lear – Ian McKellen
Goneril – Frances Barber
Regan – Monica Dolan
Cordelia – Romola Garai
Albany – Julian Harries
Cornwall – Guy Williams
Gloucester – William Gaunt
Edgar – Ben Meyjes
Edmund – Philip Winchester
Kent – Jonathon Hyde
Fool – Sylvester McCoy

The PBS film version of this play may be purchased now at www.shoppbs.org. Put ‘King Lear’ in the search bar.