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.

From the vaults: “A visually stunning, action-filled Bardfest with top-notch performances…” Film critic Robin Askew’s 1996 review of Richard Loncraine’s Richard III, which unforgettably starred Ian McKellen

Richard III ciggy
Opening with an action scene strongly reminscent of one of the more audacious stunts in Goldeneye and climaxing in a style that owes more to Terminator 2 than any of those stilted school stage productions which are the closest most of us get to the Bard, Richard Loncraine and Ian McKellen’s reworking of Richard Eyre’s daring stage adaptation is clearly not for the Shakespeare purist. That said, it’s not a crass attempt to bring Richard III to “the kids”, either; rather a bold and inspired reimagining of the play’s universal themes in a handsomely staged civil war-torn alternate-world England of the 1930s.

McKellen is a hypnotically watchable, oily, scheming Richard, cursed by physical deformity but unstintingly ruthless in his pursuit of power in this jazz age Albion awash with the sinister trappings of fascism. Following the death of the King and the accession of his elder brother Edward, Richard’s blood-spattered path to the throne becomes clear. First he must seduce and marry Lady Anne (Kristin Scott Thomas) – here reduced to a pitiful junkie with needle tracks up her arms – whose husband he slaughtered during the Civil War.

Richard III Annette
Then, with the aid of the greedy Duke of Buckingham (Jim Broadbent) and his faithful assassin James Tyrell (Adrian Dunbar), this brilliant, twisted strategist sets about removing every obstacle in his way, from his brothers King Edward (John Wood) and the gentle Clarence (Nigel Hawthorne) to Earl Rivers (Robert Downey Jr), brother of the widowed Queen Elizabeth (Annette Bening), who meets his end in a particularly grisly manifestation of coitus interruptus.

A visually stunning, action-filled Bardfest, pared to just the right length, with top-notch performances from its venerable thesps, including oddly cast American Downey Jr and a suitably regal Bening, Richard III makes outstanding use of its imaginative locations, from the palace at St. Pancras Station to the final tank battle in the shadow of Battersea Power Station. McKellen contributes a performance of such lip-smacking evil – all crocodile smiles and sly asides to camera – that even a ferocious public disowning by Queen Mum Maggie Smith is barely able to deflect it for more than a heartbeat.

This review originally appeared in Venue Magazine.

Richard III (15)
UK / 1996 / 103 minutes
Director: Richard Loncraine.
Cast: Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr., Maggie Smith, Nigel Hawthorne, Adrian Dunbar, John Wood

Richard III ciggy