The tale of an ageing monarch descending into madness following the division of his kingdom is filtered through a Communist perspective by Russian director Grigori Kozintsev in the latter's final film. This monochrome King Lear has an epic sweep, which emphasises the catastrophic impact of feudal misrule upon the country's starving masses. A commanding title performance by Estonian actor Yuri Yarvet, some striking landscape imagery, and Dmitri Shostakovich's anguished score help make for a spirited adaptation.
"A generalized picture of a civilization heading towards doom", is how Kozintsev described his King Lear, which followed up his internationally acclaimed version of Hamlet. The opening scenes, of a crowd of ragged peasants marching across the barren countryside towards the royal castle, establish the mood of social and political ferment. When Lear takes refuge in a hovel during a tempest, he discovers that it's filled with vagabonds, causing him to lament, "I've taken too little care of this": the medieval king in other words is forced to confront the suffering of his people at first hand, and later in the chaos of military defeat he himself joins the ranks of the dispossessed.
For those unfamiliar with the machinations contained within the play, Pasternak's screenplay does little to clarify the plotting of the various factions, and with the exception of Valentina Shendrikova's Cordelia, Lear's daughters make little dramatic impression. But Kozintsev, abetted by Jonas Gritsus's dynamic cinematography, confidently handles the set-piece confrontations, particularly the climactic battle. And Klaus Kinski-lookalike Yarvet, faithfully accompanied by his shaven-headed Fool (Oleg Dal), excels in his character's transition from striding regal arrogance to wrenching, grief-stricken despair
In Russian with English subtitles.