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.

A new book demonstrates that the legendary ‘curse of Macbeth’ – as depicted in BBC2 TV drama The Dresser – is in fact a relatively modern invention

Watching the excellent adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s play The Dresser on BBC2, there were many moments that tickled our Shakespearean tastebuds.

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Not least of these was when ‘Sir’ (Anthony Hopkins) inadvertently says “Macbeth” in the theatre, and a panic-stricken Norman (Ian McKellen) has to lead him through a strange theatrical ritual to negate the resulting ‘curse’.

The Dresser
Interestingly, a new book, Anecdotal Shakespeare by Paul Menzer, suggests that the infamous “curse of Macbeth” that has supposedly plagued theatres for 400 years is in fact an invented tradition – with no records of it ever being mentioned earlier than 1937!

As The Dresser is set circa 1940, however, that would make it just about historically accurate to include the so-called curse of The Scottish Play.

The Dresser
On the other hand, this vintage clip from the BBC’s Blackadder, which is set in the 18th century, although utterly hilarious, would seem to be somewhat lacking in historical verisimilitude.

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But then, as Shakespeare might have said, why let the facts get in the way of a good story – or, indeed, a great gag?

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Anecdotal Shakespeare
is out now, published by Arden Shakespeare/Bloomsbury.

(Thank you to reader Gordon Kerry for sending us the Blackadder link)