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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Looking For Love in All the Wrong Places

King Lear (1971) on IMDb

Plot Overview

This movie version of Shakespeare's play opens with the great unwashed descending upon the castle of old King Lear (Jüri Järvet as Yuri Yarvet) of England as he's about to divest him­self of his titles and vacate the throne. His three daughters Goneril (E. Radzina), Regan (G. Volchek), and Cordelia (V. Shendrikova) stand to gain the kingdom in its three parts, but first the king questions them, “Tell me daughters, which of you dost love us most?” Goneril and Regan are effusive in their answers, but sweet Cordelia is struck dumb and can but say, “Nothing, my Lord” except the basic truth. There­fore, he disinherits her. With “Truth be thy dower” her suitors flee, as well, save for France (“Thou hast her, France. Let her be thine.”) There's a Catholic wedding.

King Lear with a retinue of 100 knights visits his "loving" daughter Goneril but finds that her Duke husband sees a bigger picture in which “Lear's shadow” rates only twenty-five knights. Offended, Lear sets off for greener pastures (“I have another daughter.”)

Well, Regan's husband Duke is gearing up for war to take the whole shebang, so Lear is squeezed out of any habitation. In a sub-plot, Lear's loyal courtier, Duke of Gloucester (K. Sebris) is tricked by his illegitimate son Edmund (R. Adomaytis) to turn against his legitimate son Edgar (L. Merzin). Fleeing his father's manhunt, Edgar disguises himself as “crazy Tom” and heads out into the wild where Lear is, too, awaiting the wheel to come round.


King Lear in the play is eighty years old, he divides his kingdom foolishly, and the curmudgeon is not amenable to correction (“Dear sir, forbear.”) While her older sisters flaunt their so-called "love", wise, young Cordelia keeps her own counsel (“My love's more ponderous than my tongue”) and for that gets disinherited. When later Lear goes a-calling on his children, the ingrates put his messenger in the stocks. If we wish to find a scripture representing this plot, we could do a whole lot worse than, (Eccl. 4:13-14) “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.” Indeed, many movies deal with a know-it-all authority and a wise kid, some of which I've reviewed, so it behooves us to under­stand this passage.

Solomon under­standing language seems to have commented on the multitude of Bible trans­lations and the difficulty in learning the original tongues (Eccl. 12:12.) The English language in its early vitality gave rise to the King James Version (KJV) whose wise words have since become poor in currency following the natural course of diminishing usage, while the dominating modern versions of an aged English retain lots of baggage, as does a king who came out of prison to reign. In the movie the guy in stocks was content to sleep there and whistle. Prison can make a person lazy, not willing to get up to check a dictionary but shine on unfamiliar words, going on his way with a whistle. In this play we're looking at the one word, love.

In the modern versions, love is over­stated in relation to what is usually meant in our common speech that allows for more self-interest than a high standard demands. In the KJV is often substituted a tupenny-ha'penny term charity used in Webster's sense of: “charity n 1: benevolent good­will towards or love of humanity.” Used in a sentence it would come out like some­thing reporter Gerald Seymour wrote, “there was no fear on his face, or excitement, and no charity. I was pleading with him to find me help, and he stared back at me” (396). Or as visionary Maria Valtorta records in a certain conver­sation of Jesus and his disciples: “if we want to conquer Heaven, we must be perfect like a board which is planed and squared properly. … . “¶There­fore, order and charity. Then, holding those two extremities firm in two vices, so that they may not move, you can work at all the rest” (457/461). Or from Italian Dante's “Inferno” (106):

     Have you forgotten that your Ethics states
         the three main dispositions of the soul
         that lead to those offenses Heaven hates—

     incontinence, malice, and bestiality?
         and how incontinence offends God least
         and earns least blame from Justice and Charity?

For someone who is not well read, is too lazy to look up a new word in a dictionary, and who has acquired but a limited vocabulary, there is a safety net of sorts—it doesn't always work—called the law of first appearance. Often in a work of literature, a word is defined by its very context the first time it appears. Let's look at charity in the KJV. It first appears in, (1Cor. 8:1) “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” Reading a little further, the theme is elaborated upon, (1Cor. 13:2) “And though I … under­stand all … knowledge … and have not charity, I am nothing.” And that segues right into a definition, (1Cor. 13:4-7) “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”

A then deacon at my church was leading a study in Corinthians, which would have given the unlearned ample time to pick up on the meaning of charity1—Kor­zyb­ski sug­gests “index numbers to break up false identi­fi­cations” (139). Then they'd under­stand it when­ever this word is encountered, such as in (1Peter 4:8) “And above all things have fervent charity among your­selves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” Unfortunately, I was brow­beaten so much for wanting to quote the KJV when they had other "superior" versions to read from, that I had to quit the class. There­fore when members of this class having learned about "love" from their modern versions encounter me or some­one reading about "charity" from his KJV, he'll assume another meaning of the word and think we said nothing about love. That's like Cordelia's sisters going on so much about their "love" for the king, that it seemed when her turn came, she said nothing. What makes it so sad is the prevalent philosophy about modern Bible versions that they say the same thing in different words. But that's the very point of “King Lear”, that the three sisters all spoke about their love but in different words.

Now I've found me another class, on Genesis. The Book of beginnings is just rife with first appearances, and our class has welcomed those with limited vocabularies—one girl had to have the meaning of anthro­po­morphism explained to her. You'd think the teacher would be grateful that I read the KJV along with other versions that were quoted, but no, I get the same old story, that it's the same thought in different words. Some­body needs a refresher course on “King Lear.”

Production Values

“King Lear” (Korol Lir) (1971) was directed by Grigori Kozintsev (& Iosif Shapiro), not to be confused with Peter Brook's “King Lear” (1971) filmed at the same time—the two directors corresponded together through­out shooting. The script was written by Grigori Kozintsev using Boris Pasternak's Russian translation, 1949, of William Shakespeare's play, “King Lear.” It stars Jüri Järvet, Elza Radzina, and Galina Volchek. Estonian actor Jüri Järvet depicts master­fully a mad king. Galina Volchek submits a haunting performance as Regan. Oleg Dal's fool is one twisted character. Karlis Sebris as the Duke of Gloucester, has very moving scenes with his son Edgar. In a small but important role, Valentina Shendrikova excels as Cordelia.

This film is not rated, but the bloody battle scenes are mostly not too bad except for one shocker. There was out­standing cinema­tog­raphy by Jonas Gritsius. Dmitri Shostakovich's score excels. The inadequate Russian of the Estonian or Latvian actors was over­dubbed, and its brevity belied the flowery Shakespearean English subtitles. This film is available from the Russian Cinema Council's (RUSCICO) website. The video trans­fer produced some odd spurious effects but other­wise was good in a wide­screen format.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I saw this “King Lear” as part of a university class. While university students generally go for spoken Shakespeare, our teacher being a non-academic, ex-Hollywood director liked the bard better in print, whence the Russian version with English subtitles. And its technical construction was very good, too, with a Russian emotive performance. If I had my druthers, I'd rather pick … well, I'd have picked another drama than Shakespeare, looking for modern relevance. But I'm going to have to rethink my assessment after seeing it.

Works Cited

Scripture quotation is from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Print.

Alighieri, Dante. The Inferno. New york: Mentor Books, 1954.

Korzybski, Alfred. Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. Quoted in Stuart Chase, Power of Words. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1954. Print.

Seymour, Gerald. Timebomb. New York: The Over­look Press, 2012. Print.

Valtorta, Maria. The Gospel as Revealed to Me. Vol. 1. Translated from Italian by Nicandro Picozzi, M.A., D.D.  Revised by Patrick McLaughlin, M.A. This 2nd English Edition has now replaced the First English Edition, The Poem of the Man-God. WEB.

Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Mass.: MERRIAM-WEBSTER. 1984. Print.