King Lear

I’ve got a theory about King Lear, which is that actors are generally keener on it than audiences. For the seasoned thesp, it’s the theatrical equivalent of conquering Everest – but it’s not what you’d choose to bring a picnic to watch at your local National Trust property, is it? Not with all that death and rain and eye-gouging and shouting (King Lear has more shouting than the EastEnders omnibus).

But there is undoubtedly no greater showcase for an actor on this Earth, and Richard Eyre’s modern-dress adaptation earned its portion of the licence if only for the act of capturing the magnificent Sir Anthony Hopkins in full sail.

With his close-cropped white hair, Hopkins raged through the film like a wounded silverback gorilla – a captivating performance, even if two hours in Lear’s company can feel a bit like being cornered by an angry pub drunk.

He was supported by an absurdly starry cast, including Emma Thompson, Emily Watson, Florence Pugh, Jims Broadbent and Carter, Andrew Scott and an unusually posh Christopher Eccleston. The Duke of Cornwall, meanwhile, was played by the excellent Tobias Menzies – soon to be seen as a less bloodthirsty duke when he takes over from Matt Smith in The Crown.

The setting was a 21st century Britain broadly recognisable as our own – complete with Sherlock-style hero shots of the thrusting London skyline – but under the yoke of a military dictatorship, Lear ruling from the Tower of London with a royal guard of unruly squaddies for his knights. And the ‘poor naked wretches’ Lear encounters in the pitiless storm were not beggars, but refugees in a makeshift camp (Shakespeare directors love nothing more than proving how relevant the Bard still is).

Eyre’s broadly realist approach left some of the more theatrical devices (like Lear not recognising Kent because he’d shaved his beard off) looking a little exposed. Hopkins, though, had nothing to fear from the forensic scrutiny of the camera: cruel and kind, tyrannical and childlike, sinned against and sinner, his was a Lear to rank among the greats. He’d still ruin your picnic though.

TV extra:


Peter Kay’s Car Share

Previews of the last ever Car Share weren’t made available by the BBC, so I’ll just say two things: The whole series has been a joy – the perfect (ahem) vehicle for Peter Kay’s earthy northern humour, with a star-making turn from the wonderful Sian Gibson. And if John and Kayleigh didn’t get their happy-ever-after ending – after all the misery we’ve endured on this planet recently – I’m never coming out from under my duvet again.


How The Young Ones Changed Comedy

This terrific documentary, recalling how the anarchic 80s sitcom rolled a grenade into a comedy landscape dominated by the extremes of Oxbridge and northern working men’s clubs, more than justified its bold title. The Young Ones was so groundbreaking, in fact, that baffled BBC execs ordered Ben Elton to write an essay on ‘why it was funny’. There was testimony from most of the key players – though the absence of Rik Mayall couldn’t help but leave a hole. 

Published in Waitrose Weekend, May 31, 2018

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