Korol Lir

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(King Lear)

USSR, 1971

Director: Grigori Kozintsev

Production: Lenfilm: black and white, 35mm, scope; running time: 140 minutes; length: 12,500 feet. Released 1971, USSR. Filmed 1970 in the USSR.

Producer: Grigori Kozintsev; screenplay: Grigori Kozintsev, from Boris Pasternak's translation of the play by William Shakespeare; photography: Jonas Gritsius; sound: Eduard Vanunts; production designer: Yevgeny Yenei (Jenöcek Jenei); sets: Vsevolod Ulitko; music: Dmitri Shostakovich; costume designer: Suliko Virsaladze.

Cast: Yuri Yarvet (King Lear); Elsa Radzinya (Goneril); Galina Volchek (Regan); Valentina Shendrikova (Cordelia); Oleg Dal (The Fool); Karl Sebris (Earl of Gloucester); Leonard Merzin (Edgar); Regimantas Adomaitis (Edmund); Vladimir Emelyanov (Earl of Kent); Alexander Volkach (Duke of Cornwall); Alexei Petrenko (Oswald); Yumas Budraitis (King of France); Donatas Banionis (Duke of Albany).



Kozintsev, Grigori, Shakespeare: Time and Conscience, New York, 1966.

Eckert, Charles, editor, Focus on Shakespearian Film, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1972.

Rapisarda, Guisi, editor, La Feks: Kozintsev e Trauberg, Rome, 1975.

Kozintsev, Grigori, King Lear: The Space of Tragedy: The Diary ofa Film Director, Berkeley, 1977.

Liehm, Mira, and Antonin Liehm, The Most Important Art: EastEuropean Film After 1945, Berkeley 1977.

Leaming, Barbara, Grigori Kozintsev, Boston, 1980.

Buchman, Lorne Michael, From the Globe to the Screen: AnInterpretive Study of Shakespeare Through Film, Ann Arbor, 1984.


Barteneva, Yevgeniya, "One Day with King Lear," in Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 9, 1969.

Yutkevitch, Sergei, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1971.

Filmfacts (New York), No. 24, 1971.

International Film Guide, London, 1972.

Tatarkiewicz, A., and Z. Pitera, in Kino (Warsaw), March 1972.

Koltain, T., in Filmkultura (Budapest), May-June 1972.

"Er widmete sein Talent der Revolution," in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), September 1973.

Marienstras, R., "Deux versions du Roi Lear," in Positif (Paris), April 1974.

Welsh, James M., "To See Feelingly: King Lear Through Russian Eyes," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Spring 1976.

Hodgdon, B., "Kozintsev's King Lear," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Fall 1977.

Hodgdon, B., "Two King Lears: Uncovering the Filmtext," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), July 1983.

Radvliff-Umstead, "Order and Disorder in Kozintsev's King Lear," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), October 1983.

Schmalz, W., "Pictorial Imagery in Kozintsev's King Lear," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), April 1985.

Parker, R.B., "The Use of Mise-en-scene in Three Films of King Lear," in Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 1, Spring 1991.

Angulo, J., "El rey Lear," in Nosferatu (San Sebastian), no. 8, February 1992.

Daems, J., "Wijsheid in waanzin," in Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), no. 441, April 1994.

* * *

Korol Lir was the last film of Kozintsev's long career, which began with the delirious experimentalism of the early 1920s and ended with two towering adaptations of Shakespeare. His version of Hamlet is probably the better-known of the two, but some critics have considered his Lear even finer. In its austere grandeur the film conveys, more effectively perhaps than any stage production could ever do, the majestic stature of the play, extending it to its utmost range without in the least distorting it. Kozintsev's Lear remains, with all its gritty strength, still very much Shakespeare's Lear.

"This is not the story of one man," Kozintsev commented; "everything occurs among many other people." His aim is to place Lear in context, showing that the schemes and caprices of royalty bring disaster not only to themselves, but also to the whole nation. In the opening sequence a meandering procession of ragged vagabonds (immediately recalling the line of suppliants winding through the snow in Ivan the Terrible) make their painful way to Lear's castle. Later, as war and destruction rage across the stark landscape, the entire populace of Britain seems to have been reduced to such scurrying wretchedness, with the king himself merely one among their number. The closing scenes take place amid the scorched and shattered ruins of Dover, whose inhabitants continue while Lear dies to forage gloomily among the rubble, indifferent to one more death after so many.

Pictorially the film is consistently superb. Kozintsev deploys his widescreen monochrome photography to impressive effect, creating panoramic compositions which echo the elemental forces unleashed by the play. In one vivid overhead shot, the camera even seems to become one with the elements as it glares down on the cowering figures of Lear and the Fool stumbling blindly across the storm-swept heath. At other times it identifies with the king in his changing moods, sweeping vertiginously upwards with him to the mad heights of the battlements, or panning slowly across a darkening horizon as if in apprehension of the coming storm.

In the title role, the Estonian actor Yuri Yarvet is imaginatively cast: a diminutive, bird-like man with quick eyes, he seems at first almost childishly unfitted for kingship, yet by the end of the film has acquired a touchingly frail nobility, transcending his own inadequacies as he gains in understanding. The other roles are equally individually characterised, drawing on a wealth of personal detail, from the gossipy fussiness of Gloucester to the Fool's crop-haired innocence. Pasternak's sinewy translation audibly recaptures, even for those with no Russian, the rhythms and inflection of Shakespeare's verse; while in its power and energy, Shostakovich's music (the last of his many outstanding film scores) perfectly complements Kozintsev's epic conception of the play.

There are no compromises in Korol Lir. In its visual style it is thoroughly Russian, very much Kozintsev. (The hand of the director of New Babylon, 40 years earlier, is clearly evident.) It conforms to a Marxist reading of the text, but without being in any way doctrinaire, nor perverting Shakespeare's intentions. Along with Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, and Kozintsev's own Hamlet, it provides a rare example of a Shakespeare film that succeeds in being at once superb cinema and superb Shakespeare.

—Philip Kemp