Great Performances (1971– )
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King Lear 

1:05 | Trailer
King Lear decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom between his three daughters.


Trevor Nunn


William Shakespeare (play)



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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Ian McKellen ... King Lear
William Gaunt ... Earl of Gloucester
Philip Winchester ... Edmund
Ben Meyjes Ben Meyjes ... Edgar
Frances Barber ... Goneril
Monica Dolan ... Regan
Romola Garai ... Cordelia
Sylvester McCoy ... Fool
Jonathan Hyde ... Earl of Kent
Guy Williams Guy Williams ... Duke of Cornwall
Julian Harries Julian Harries ... Duke of Albany
John Heffernan ... Oswald
Russell Byrne Russell Byrne ... First Gloucester Servant / Doctor
David Weston ... A Gentleman
Peter Hinton Peter Hinton ... Duke of Burgundy


King Lear, old and tired, divides his kingdom among his daughters, giving great importance to their protestations of love for him. When Cordelia, youngest and most honest, refuses to idly flatter the old man in return for favor, he banishes her and turns for support to his remaining daughters. But Goneril and Regan have no love for him and instead plot to take all his power from him. In a parallel, Lear's loyal courtier Gloucester favors his illegitimate son Edmund after being told lies about his faithful son Edgar. Madness and tragedy befall both ill-starred fathers. Written by Jim Beaver <>

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Release Date:

25 March 2009 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs



Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


This version of Shakespeare's play opened at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Courtyard Theatre in 2007, and toured the world before transferring for a London run. See more »


Version of King Lear (2017) See more »

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User Reviews

All right, but not stellar
20 April 2009 | by sarastro7See all my reviews

Except for his wonderful Twelfth Night movie, I must admit I've never really been impressed with Trevor Nunn's Shakespeare productions. They are too "heavy"; too pensive (despite the frequent emphasis on songs), and just too dull. Hate to say it, but that's the effect they have on me. What a yawn-fest his Merchant of Venice was! Can that play no longer be a comedy? It was far too serious in Al Pacino's 2004 version, too. I'm glad the Globe's 2007 production of it was properly comical!

Anyway, Nunn now tackles Lear, with Britain's second-greatest living actor in the title role (no. 1, to my mind, is Derek Jacobi, who to my knowledge has however never played Lear). It should have been good. And I suppose it is fair. McKellen's Lear is competent, but it falls short of being compelling, and ends up, like the rest of the cast, being merely passable. There is nothing really special here to distinguish this production. The Fool is good (good one, McCoy!), Kent is good (although one wonders if Nunn missed the point of what Kent says just before "His countenance likes me not", since he rather strangely threw those lines out), Edgar is good, Cordelia is good (although Garai's stage time is so minuscule that you could be forgiven for not recalling her presence at all), but the rest could all have been culled from some run-of-the-mill theater production without any particular vision. Nunn may have a vision here, but I'm certainly hard put to see it. If it's there, it doesn't come clearly across. Clocking in at nearly three hours, there's just not enough good and innovative theater here to hold the attention. Yawning and boredom creeps in.

Because of the good performances by some (though one only slightly above average by McKellen), I will be gracious and magnanimous and rate this production a 7 out of 10. I dare say it barely deserves it. Then again, putting on a good King Lear is difficult indeed. Many have tried, most have failed. I'm looking forward, of course, to the upcoming Hopkins version, hoping against hope that it might beat the 1983 Olivier version as the best yet. Olivier was a fantastic Lear (with the great mane of white hair he's supposed to have), and John Hurt was an astonishingly successful Fool. Kent and Gloucester were superb. Edgar and Edmund both were perfect. This is going to be the one to beat, or even live up to, for any future Lear production - unless of course something really innovative and unusual were to be tried, as with Taymor's Titus.

I will of course need to watch this Nunn Lear again once or twice, to assure myself that it really is as average as I felt on the first watching, but, I have many other things to watch, so it won't be anytime soon. Not a historic version, this.

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