King Lear (1982)

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Released 9-Sep-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1982
Running Time 184:33 (Case: 182)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (84:01) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Jonathan Miller

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Michael Hordern
Brenda Blethyn
Michael Kitchen
John Bird
Gillian Barge
Penelope Wilton
Frank Middlemass
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music William Walton

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    In 1978 the BBC began filming The Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare, a project comprising all thirty-six of his plays which was completed in 1985. Using the cream of available British talent, each of the plays was shot in the studio and featured a variety of directors and production designs. One thing this series is not noted for is the production values, each of them looking as if they were shot on the cheap, using videotape instead of film and having flimsy sets.

    I recall watching a number of these on TV in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and some stick in my memory, such as fine versions of Macbeth, Richard II, the two parts of Henry IV, Richard III, and Julius Caesar. The series featured such distinguished actors as John Gielgud (as John of Gaunt), Nicol Williamson (an excellent Macbeth), Helen Mirren (Titania), Anthony Quayle (Falstaff), and a controversially bawdy interpretation of Hamlet by Derek Jacobi in a flawed adaptation of the Bard's most famous play.

    I must admit to missing this particular play when it was first screened, and in fact I have never seen a complete version before. I have managed to see numerous shorter screen adaptations, notably two superbly photographed films from around the same era. One was Korol Lir, a 1969 Russian version directed by Gregori Kozintsev, the other a 1971 British film with Paul Scofield in the title role, set in Sweden and looking like one of Ingmar Bergman's mediĉval fantasies. Then of course there are the re-imaginings of the story such as Kurosawa's Ran or the more recent A Thousand Acres. Emile Zola's novel La Terre has more than one parallel with the Lear story, and there is a fine French silent film of this available in Region 1.

    The story tells of Lear (Michael Hordern), a king of Albion in the time before Merlin, who reaching a great age decides to retire and split his kingdom amongst his three daughters: Goneril (Gillian Barge), Regan (Penelope Wilton) and Cordelia (Brenda Blethyn). Cordelia is the youngest and best-loved, though she is not yet married, and Lear has set aside the largest portion of his lands for her. Before handing out the land, Lear asks his daughters to tell him how much they love him, and Goneril and Regan fall over themselves in praise. Cordelia finds this distasteful and refuses to say other than she loves him as a daughter should. Enraged, Lear banishes Cordelia who is taken as wife by the King of France.

    The other daughters immediately conspire to install themselves in power and rid themselves of Lear. Meanwhile, the Duke of Gloucester's illegitimate son Edmund (Michael Kitchen) plans to steal his brother Edgar's inheritance by framing him as a traitor and playing him off against his father.

    While I admit to being no expert on this play, it seems to me that Michael Hordern lacks a certain gravity and toughness required to play the leading role. He was always at his best in comedies and eccentric roles in dramas, but here he seems unconvincing as Lear, who comes across as a doddering old fool, which I don't think was the intention. John Bird is a good Duke of Albany, as is Kitchen as Edmund, but for me the standout performance was by Frank Middlemass as the Fool.

    The direction by Jonathan Miller does not open the play up in a cinematic way, but of course he was hamstrung by the low budget of the production. Students of King Lear will find this useful, but based on reviews I have read, the television version with Laurence Olivier is superior.

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Transfer Quality


    The programme is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced.

    Being a video production, sharpness is not a strong suit of the transfer. Detail levels are poor, an issue not helped by the low light levels most of the time. Shadow detail is quite poor as a result, with some very murky scenes. I imagine the lighting was designed so as to cover up some of the inadequacies of the sets. Contrast is adequate.

    Colour is drab and muted, with a slightly washed out look not unusual in video productions of the 1970s and 1980s. Flesh tones are reasonable but not of reference quality by any means. Black levels are not very good, lacking solidity and including some low level noise.

    Most possible video artefacts make an appearance at some time. The worst of these is excessive noise reduction, which leads to the floating face syndrome. This is especially a problem in the darker sequences, such as immediately following the layer change. There is also motion blurring much of the time. Comet trails, cross-colouration, colour bleeding, overmodulation and chroma noise is visible throughout much of the running time. There are occasional horizontal dark lines indicating analogue tape tracking errors.

    Being shot on video, there are no film artefacts of any description.

    Subtitles are provided in English, in small white lettering. I found myself watching the play with the subtitles switched on, as the actors speak quite fast and I found my brain translating the dialogue less quickly than I would have hoped. Being able to read the subtitles as well enabled me to keep pace with the action. The subtitles almost entirely follow the original text, though occasionally some words are dropped to prevent the screen from being covered by text.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change positioned at 84:01 during the black screen between acts II and III, and is therefore not disruptive to the flow of the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sole audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, reflecting the original mono broadcast.

    The audio is satisfactory and no more. Dialogue is clear and the sound is clean despite the limitations of the recording. There is a slight background hiss present, but not to disturbing levels. I guess the object of the exercise is that Shakespeare's dialogue can be heard clearly, and I found no problem with this.

    The fanfare music that is played under the opening titles of each play in this series was written by Sir William Walton. Incidental music during the play and end credits is uncredited. The music is only used for transitions between scenes and thus is of little consequence to the play.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    No extras of any note are provided. A short essay on the background of the play, or even an interview with Jonathan Miller would have been nice.

Main Menu Audio

    Some audio from the music for the play underscores the static menu.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The UK Region 2 release of this material is identical to the Region 4. It does not seem to be available in Region 1 as far as I can tell.


    A reasonable run-through of the play which left me slightly dissatisfied.

    The video quality is not very good, but this is as good as it can be given the source material.

    The audio quality is acceptable.

    No extras are provided.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, October 07, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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