18 November 2004 | didi-5
one of the better BBC Shakespeares
Let's get the niggles out of the way first - I didn't like the performances of either Julian Curry as Cornwall (too bored) or John Bird as Albany (ok but too John Bird). I felt some of the poetry of the text was muffed and therefore lost power, and there was little sense of scale - where were Lear's rowdy knights?
However, the good by far outweighs the bad. As the three daughters of Lear, Gillian Barge (Goneril), Penelope Wilton (Regan), and Brenda Blethyn (Cordelia) are all excellent. The eldest sisters are pure poison, plotting against their father and their land; while Blethyn gives the wronged youngest daughter quiet dignity. John Shrapnel made an excellent Kent, at times quarrelsome, at others lordly as became his hidden persona.
Good stuff too from John Grillo as the sneaky servant Oswald, from Anton Lesser as Edgar (and Tom a Bedlam), and from Norman Rodway as the Earl of Gloucester - the scene where he has his eyes plucked out, seen only from behind, is played very well, as are subsequent scenes with the disguised Edgar and Lear. Michael Kitchen is a fairly interesting Edmund, but looks a bit cartoonish in places, all that conspiratorial glancing at the camera.
I wasn't that keen on Frank Middlemass' take on the Fool but I have never had much patience with anyone in that part - perhaps he did what he could with some fairly poor bits of speech and action.
I've left Lear himself till last. I didn't think at first that Michael Hordern was quite right - but following the storm he comes into his own, and by the final act and scenes with Cordelia and following, he gives the character a human side that's lacking from many productions - even Olivier came short of the scene where Lear recognises he is in the presence of his youngest and much wronged daughter. It is an interesting performance that repays re-watching and a fascinating contrast to other versions available to view.