Saturday, June 28, 2008

2009 Sneak: King Lear

Nobody ever listens to me about that proposed moratorium on Shakespeare (for just 10 years people --give other ancient playwrights a chance at movie & stage adaptations!) but if they're going to make another Shakespearean movie, at least it's not Hamlet. Prepping to shoot early next year is King Lear directed by Joshua Michael Stern (whose current movie is Swing Vote. Kevin Costner to Shakespeare... er, okay Hollyweird). Sir Anthony Hopkins is set to play the self-sabotaging monarch. [src]

In concept I love all-star casts but when the property involves familial casting it always freaks me out just a little. Playing Hopkins three famous daughters and thus, sisters, are Naomi Watts (Goneril), Gwyneth Paltrow (Regan) and Keira Knightley (Cordelia). It might be exciting to see Paltrow in an evil role for a change --she no longer loves her Proof daddy -- but I don't really see these three as sisters. They're about as convincing as sisters as the last trio to war with their imperious Learing father (Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jennifer Jason Leigh in A Thousand Acres)

I should keep an open mind. Maybe I'm just a little sore because if they were going to make King Lear I would've loved to have seen Sir Ian McKellen (my favorite "Sir") under that heavy crown. He's worked with this director before (on Neverwas) and he was just treading the boards a couple of years ago as Lear.

Discounting Shakespeare in Love (not a Shakespearean play, you know, but a play on Shakespeare as it were) the last time a Shakespearean feature was up for Oscar's Best Picture was 40 years ago (Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet) though Shakespearean plays did have a brief Oscar comeback in the 1980s. Akira Kurosawa's Ran (1985, a King Lear adaptation) was a major event and Henry V in 1989, which established the shortlived but endearing Kenneth Branagh & Emma Thompson screen craze. Most of the time film versions of the Bard are ignored by Oscar as they often are by audiences. Perhaps they're too plentiful or there's too much competition to win "definitive" raves. Nevertheless, the allure for filmmakers and actors never goes away.

19 comments:

Runs Like A Gay said...

So far there's never been a great film adaptation of Lear. All there has been is a number of good filmed performances Schofield, Olivier for TV and I'm sure I've seen a filmed Holm.

This is strage because Lear is such a cinematic story - madness in storms, eye gouging, children betraying their fathers. Only the adaptations seem to get any idea of this. You mention A Thousand Acres, I'd say Broken Lance with Spencer Tracy in the Lear role just about covers it.

On the other hand the roles are difficult to play. Lear is the older man's Hamlet and to protray the madness without losing the humanity of Lear is tough. As for the daughters most actresses overplay the bad side of Regan and Goneril, and I've yet to find anyone that doesn't just want to shout to Goneril "Just tell him you love him."

Saying that I'm stoked there's going to be a proper film adaptation, and as a Lear nut (if you have to choose a favourite Shakespeare play pick one where a young guy gets his kit off to make people think he's mad) I will definitely be there when it opens.

Duke of Cornwall, University of Liverpool, 1997

NATHANIEL R said...

hmmm, i'd argue that RAN is a great film adaptation.

but the director worries me. Maybe he's worked on a lot of stage projects but the film side of his career is miniscule. I mean... swing vote?

Runs Like A Gay said...

Are you not feeling good about Swing Vote's chances?

I don't necessarily think having little experience in directing is a bad thing for Shakespearean adaptations (Julie Taymor had only worked on TV when she directed Titus, Richard Loncraine has proved time and time again he's rubbish yet Richard III is superb). What helps most is having a clear understanding of what the play means at all levels.

So far Stern has only directed his own writing on screen, and maybe this will force him to up his game.

Also Gwynnie and Naomi could pass for sisters - probably not Anthony's daughters though, and casting Keira is a joke. Hmmpfh.

Thanks for reminding me about Ran, I was wondering what to do tonight and I think I may revisit it.

mrripley said...

ooh 97 a thousand acres lange and pfeiffer's best 90's roles bar none that inc love field.

17 Year Old Blogger said...

Is Ian McKellen not doing King Lear becuase he's filming The Hobbit? Becuase that would be stupid if they didn't give him the role.

Chris Na Taraja said...

Sirina would make a wonderful Lear.

Shakespeare is not easy, especially to adapt to film. Cases in point...2 of the worst:

Midsummer with Michelle Pfiefer(sorry Nate, I know you love her, but this film was a painful Midsummer nightmare)

Orsen Welles Megliomanical Macbeth. Probably the worst set ever on film; A mountain of shiney black coal-like fake studio plastic rock.

dcl7777 said...

The Soviet Union film adaptation Korol Lir (1971) is also a masterpiece.I think it even better than Ran,and it used original verses.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

You know, I like Keira Knightley and all, but are there no other English actresses her age? If they're going to cast Beautiful Blondes Gwyneth and Naomi, why put a brunette that could never pass for anything more than a distant cousin into the mix? Someone needs to let these Hollywood people know that Romola Garai is a solid actress.

Anonymous said...

Ian Mckellen is going to be in Lear!
The bbc has recorded the recent RSC version for airing in Britain around Christmas time. And Romola Garai is playing Cordelia. (I've assumed this is something people don't know about yet, as it hasn't been mentioned so far)
I imagine it'll probably get shown in America at some point.

J

adam k. said...

I just saw Lear at Shakespeare's Globe and loved it. I hadn't really known the play before.

Keira actually reminds me of the actress who played Regan. I would love to see her try an evil role. But I see what they were thinking, giving her a new take on her the snappy spitfire of a daughter with a good heart (Pride & Prejudice). I'm not too worried about her passing as a sister of the other two. Usually family casting bothers me no matter what, but this doesn't for some reason. Just because she's brunette and her face is not as generically pretty as the other two doesn't mean she can't be their sister.

All in all, I'm actually quite excited for this. Thanks for posting, Nat.

Anonymous said...

they're going to cast Beautiful Blondes Gwyneth and Naomi, why put a brunette that could never pass for anything more than a distant cousin into the mix?

That's actually the point, in most productions Cordelia's character looks different from the other two, to further demonstrate that she's the good daughter and they're the evil two. In this film they're tossing away the cliche that blonde hair + blue eyes are angelic. So Keira's 'dark looks' will make her stand out.

Anonymous said...

Walter, there certainly are many other English actresses than Keira Knightley. Which should be blatantly obvious if you ever watch films with English actresses in them as the vast majority doesn't feature Knightley at all. She was in one film in 2006, three in 2007, will be in two this year and so far has only one semi-confirmed project for next year.
That's less than ten films over a four year period, leaving an enormous amount of material for other young British actresses - if they're able get those parts before they're snapped up by Americans.

Catherine said...

McKellen sprang to mind when I read the title of the post, too. I'm all about Hannibal Lector, but I hated Hopkins as Othello, which I actually turned off halfway through. He's just a bit of a ham and I'd much rather see McKellen tackle it. We know he can do it, he's already wowed everyone in the RSC version (which I begged my parents to take me to, but to no avail. Dagnabbitin' air fares). At least Channel Four are supposed to be playing that version on St. Stephen's Day!

Anyway, one more Shakespeare adaptation's not going to hurt and I'm fairly interested to see how those three actresses go about it. I'm no huge fan of Keira Knightley, but to use a local expression, fair fucks to her.

But hey, one more

Brooke Cloudbuster said...

As interesting as this is for me, and it is very interesting to see Gwenyth Paltrow get a good role in a relatively high-profile film, but has everybody forgotten about Come Like Shadows?

I don't care who or what is in this film, but nothing will compare to seeing Tilda Swinton tear into Lady Macbeth.

Glenn said...

I sooo wanted to see McKellen's Lear when they had a very very brief Australian tour of it. Alas, I couldn't afford it.

mrripley said...

kate winslet could do all 3 females roles and make tony hopkins tea and cakes and still have tine for titanic 2.

Anonymous said...

It's such a hollywood-esque cast! Each of them can be fine separatedly, but it's like they had decided to cover all kinds of fuckable actresses to appeal to as many men as possible. I don't know, it's just I had never thought of Lear's daughters as hot. The first thing that came to my mind when reading this post was Altman's The Player and its portrait of how proyects get greenlit.

Anyway, what I don't get is why they get people with such different accents to play sisters! Sure, accents can be worked out in most movies, but to play sisters...

Iggy

Anonymous said...

Unleast I'm glad the inclusions of Anthony Hopkins and Naomi Watts in the proyect, I have not faith to Gwyneth Paltrow and Keira Knightley

*Gwyneth Paltrow: She's the most insipid and lame actress that I even see. She's always played the same character and I don't how she won one of the most undeserving Oscars in the history
*Keira Knightley: I liked in Bend like beckham and especially Pride & Prejudice, but since her nomination, she seems boring and plain in her performances (Atonement and Silk)...

The film could be a sucess but maybe not...

Notluke said...

I love Paltrow and Knightley, I'll give Watts benefit of the doubt (I liked her only in one performance, but I liked her a lot in that one), and Hopkins should be excellent if he restrains himself from the Lecter shtick (which worked wonders for Titus Andronicus, but wouldn't here). I'll be following the casting of other roles with great interest. Particularly the deviously villainous Edmund.

So far I'll rather be keeping my eye for the TV version, though. (Thanks for the pointer, J!) Not just because of McKellen and Garai - but also because the director, Trevor Nunn, had made Twelfth Night, the best non-Branagh Shakespearean adaptation of the 1990s.