Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Andrew Scott, Florence Pugh, Jim Broadbent and more… Meet the stellar cast of the BBC’s epic new television production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, directed by Richard Eyre

King Lear - Generics
In the fictional present, the 80 year-old King Lear divides his kingdom among his daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, according to their affection for him. Cordelia refuses to flatter him, so he banishes her. Having acquired power, Goneril and Regan expel their father from their homes. At the same time, Lear’s prime minister, Gloucester, is betrayed by his son Edmund and his other son, Edgar, is forced to go into hiding. Lear becomes mad, Gloucester is blinded – both the kingdom and the family descend into chaos and warfare.

KING LEAR (ANTHONY HOPKINS)
King Lear - Generics
King Lear is the totalitarian ruler of a dystopian contemporary England, whose addiction to power and suppression of emotions have skewed his view on reality. Coming to the end of both his reign and his life, Lear is confronting the rifts in his family and his kingdom which a lifetime of hubris and entitlement have caused.

GONERIL (EMMA THOMPSON)
King Lear - Generics
Goneril is the eldest of Lear’s daughters, married to the Duke of Albany. Emotionally starved by her father and raised to be as ruthless and unfeeling as he often is, Goneril is focussed on gaining the political power she feels she has earned – and will go to any lengths to get it. Her marriage is strained as she aggressively tries to usurp political power, and her husband is caught between loyalty to his wife and his duty to the King.

REGAN (EMILY WATSON)
King Lear - Generics
Regan is Lear’s middle daughter, married to the Duke of Cornwall. Where Goneril presents a veneer of being cold and aloof, Regan is more passionate and gratuitous in her cruelty. While allied on the surface, she and her sister have bitterly competed their entire lives for the affection of their father and continue to vie for both political power and the affections of Edmund. Her relationship with Cornwall is fuelled by a shared sadistic streak, but Regan is ultimately out for herself.

CORDELIA (FLORENCE PUGH)
King Lear - Generics
Cordelia is Lear’s youngest daughter. Kind, brave and honest – she is the antithesis of her sisters. Although Cordelia loves her father genuinely, she is not willing to exaggerate this love to secure her portion of the kingdom and is banished as a result. Despite this rift she continues to support Lear and demonstrates her strength and integrity as he slowly unravels.

EARL OF GLOUCESTER (JIM BROADBENT)
King Lear - Generics
The Earl of Gloucester is the Prime Minister and an influential member of Lear’s government. Accustomed to power and influence, he possesses an arrogance that leads to short-sightedness. Gloucester has two sons – Edgar and the illegitimate Edmund – and as with Lear, his undoing is triggered by misjudging and mistreating his children.

EDMUND (JOHN MACMILLAN)
King Lear - Generics
Edmund is the illegitimate son of Gloucester, who has been abroad for several years. Seething with resentment at his second-class status, Edmund seizes an opportunity to advance politically.

EDGAR (ANDREW SCOTT)
King Lear - Generics
A mild and trusting intellectual, Edgar is the son of the Earl of Gloucester and half-brother to Edmund. Honest but easily manipulated, he falls into the trap Edmund sets to disinherit him and has to flee society in order to stay alive. Edgar is forced to survive outside the comfortable world he knows, but as a result he discovers an inner resilience and shows immense grace when reuniting with his father in tragic circumstances.

EARL OF KENT (JIM CARTER)
King Lear - Generics
The Earl of Kent is a steadfast supporter of Lear, faithful to the king even after he is banished from the court for interceding on Cordelia’s behalf. Despite disagreeing with Lear’s choices, Kent takes up a disguise and follows the troubled monarch and attempts to protect him at any cost.

THE FOOL (KARL JOHNSON)
The Fool is Lear’s loyal companion and occupies the dual role of jester and advisor – one of the few people who, through riddles, can confront Lear with the truth. By his side until the end, the Fool’s title belies his insight and depth of character.

DUKE OF CORNWALL (TOBIAS MENZIES)
The Duke of Cornwall, Regan’s husband, is a sadistic and power-hungry man – cruel and motivated to further his political career at any cost. From his advantageous marriage to his behaviour in the aftermath of Lear’s division of the kingdom, the Duke acts with his own best interests at heart.

THE DUKE OF ALBANY (ANTHONY CALF)
The Duke of Albany is a direct contrast to his wife, Goneril, empathetic and conflicted as he gets caught up in her vendetta against her father. Morally grounded but struggling to exert a sound influence in the chaos created by Lear and his family, Albany must decide where his loyalties truly lie.

OSWALD (CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON)
Dedicated chief of staff in Goneril’s household, Oswald is a fastidious man devoted to his mistress and wholeheartedly supportive of her grievances against her father.

Adapted and directed by Richard Eyre, King Lear is broadcast on Bank Holiday Monday, 28 May at 9.30pm on BBC2.

Watch the trailer of King Lear here.

Soul-searching with Scott: Irish actor Andrew Scott delivered an “exquisite, fragile” performance in Robert Icke’s “electrifying, heart-wrenching production” of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre, writes Clare Petre

Photos by Manuel Harlan

Director Robert Icke’s exceptional contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare’s most famous play has had plenty of time to sit. Indeed, London has seen two further Hamlets (Tom Hiddleston’s and Benet Brandreth’s) since this formidable piece of theatre closed, but Andrew Scott’s is the one that seems to haunt the capital. With its soundtrack of some of Bob Dylan’s most touching songs, this electrifying, heart-wrenching production has plunged a poisoned foil into the hearts of thousands.
Andrew Scott’s exquisite, fragile Hamlet was offset beautifully by Jessica Brown-Findlay’s graceful yet physically strong Ophelia (her dance background was evident throughout), whose weakness, ironically, lay in her attempting to convince herself and the court of her strength.

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I have seen criticism of the “monotony” of Angus Wright’s Claudius, as if his performance left something to be desired. I disagree – Wright is an accomplished actor and his Claudius was cunningly crafted. He left us in no doubt as to how Derbhle Crotty’s elegant and likeable Gertrude, in the midst of her confusion and grief, was attracted to his lupine, prowling figure but saw the error of her ways so quickly in the closet scene.
Peter Wight’s Polonius was apparently succumbing to the insidious effects of dementia, but his performance lost none of the character’s levity.

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Aided by a cast of such strength, the play felt so fresh that some of its most famous and often most laboured words became unfamiliar. Icke’s daring direction served to emphasise this by giving several of the play’s best known moments entirely new readings – Laertes’ plea to use another foil as the one he has chosen is “too heavy”, for example, became a sudden second thought – a desperate and urgent cry to avoid the inevitable and perhaps use a foil untainted with poison. He became a man torn between his loyalty to the court, and his desire to forgive Hamlet and begin to define a better future. For the duel scene itself Shakespeare’s words were all but abandoned, the fight performed as a dumb-show to Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet”. Emotionally manipulative? Perhaps. Facile? Possibly. Heart-breaking? Undeniably.

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This production’s outstanding competence lay in giving its audience the opportunity to share grief and express its own, usually muted, sorrows. Shared emotion equates to shared humanity. A fully paid-up member of Generation X, I cannot remember a more (over)dramatic outpouring of love and grief than that which we witnessed after the death of Princess Diana, which has been much discussed of late, it being the 20th anniversary of the Paris crash. There was, at the time, an extraordinary and tribal response to her carefully orchestrated funeral.
With Diana, we were not mourning the death of a princess so much as celebrating the opportunity to experience human communality. So with Hamlet, while we feel acutely his pain, Ophelia’s, Gertrude’s, we mourn our own tragedies as they are reflected upon the stage. When we weep for Hamlet and his fellow characters, we are weeping for our own grief and for the sense of loss which might permeate our own lives, but using Shakespeare’s writing as a conduit. To paraphrase Gertrude, this Elsinore turned our eyes into our very souls.

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I fell in love with Hamlet 30 years ago and in that time many interpretations have come and gone. But it is Andrew Scott’s that has remained with me above all others, and which will do until usurped. I suspect I am in for a long wait.

This performance of Hamlet took place on Monday 24 July 2017 at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London