King Lear (1983) Director: Michael Elliott
Making full use of mist-filled, shadowy, Bronze Age set designs inspired by Stonehenge and druid mysteries, Michael Elliott’s made-for-television film features the final appearance of Sir Laurence Olivier in a Shakespeare play. Olivier was 75 years old at the time of his performance, one of the oldest individuals to ever assume the enormous task of playing King Lear, and for his efforts, he deservedly won an Emmy. In the film, Olivier is joined by an all-star cast, including Sir John Hurt as the Fool, Dame Diana Rigg as Regan, Dame Dorothy Tutin as Goneril, and others like Brian Cox as the Duke of Burgundy.
Needless to say, Laurence Olivier and John Hurt both offer a striking duality which is central to this production. Olivier plays the elder monarch as a prideful, confident, yet fearful, and increasingly mad, albeit slightly cantankerous figure. His long, regal beard is soon shaven at just the moment that the audience feels both fear and pity for the former king. Also, this performance includes the trial scene as featured in the Quarto. Fittingly, after a legendary career on the stage, Olivier concludes his Shakespearean sojourn in the winter of his life by playing his most challenging role yet. This a great adaptation of the play, as one might expect from Laurence Olivier, but is it the greatest? Surely not. The draw for the film is Olivier’s harrowingly complex portrayal of the aging colossus, but if not for Olivier, this would be a somewhat forgettable made-for-television production.