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Bring Forth the Bard! Casting “King Lear”

Posted on the 20 March 2013 by House Of Geekery @houseofgeekery

Where is Shakespeare, why has the Bard been so ignored in the last decade? Is his high collar just not in vogue anymore? Why, when we finally do get an adaptation, are we always forced to see yet another rendition of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, can we not dip into his other works to explore the genius that hides there? It is great to see Shakespeare come to life on the screen but when it is a travesty like Gnomeo and Juliet or a teen comedy loosely based on one of his plays, we are missing out on everything the man stood for.

This year the geekgasm inducing almighty Joss Whedon himself is releasing his low-budget modern take of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays Much Ado About Nothing (see the trailer below).

With this I hope that perhaps Shakespeare may again have his day, but then again I fear Hollywood will forsake poetry for special effects and big budgets. In the last couple of decades the big budget Shakespeare films have gone ignored by American audiences – The Tempest comes to mind, which came and went with little notice. Does this mean we should leave the Bard behind, forget the genius and not attempt to render his masterpieces for the big screen? I say no sir, no! Then what is the answer? Forget the budget, leave all the fancy tricks with modern technology behind, and return to the basics, the words and the performances. Perhaps then Shakespeare can be resurrected for today’s audiences. I believe the key is to make everything relatable but keep to the original language or at least the themes, not bastardizing them or watering them down, treat your audience like they are intelligent but also don’t slip into pretentiousness either. A difficult mixture I know, but it can be done!

If any one of the Bard’s plays deserves its time to shine it is King Lear, Shakespeare’s look into the relationship between father and child, as the aging man descends into madness and must face the truth of what love really means. This is by far my favorite of the Bard’s tragedies and one that hasn’t gotten the full Hollywood treatment in quite sometime, sure there are filmed stage adaptations which are wonderful, but I believe it is time for Lear to be on the big screen. The nice thing about this play is that the themes of family, power, and gender roles could easily be translated into a more modern setting, although I would hope for a more traditional retelling.

Donald Sutherland as King Lear


Sutherland not only fits the bill because of his age and looks, but the man can toe the line between terrifying and gentile, which is key to Lear. The king needs to be believable as both a strong ruler, but also a man who is losing his mind, the ability to show visible insanity coupled with strength is hard to find in an actor and I believe Sutherland would be absolutely ideal.

Saoirse Ronan as Cordelia (Youngest Daughter)


Although the play is named for the King, Cordelia is the true heart and soul of this play, and as such she must be able to capture the audience’s heart and soul straight away, something I believe Saoirse is more than ready for. We have already seen her play a strong, independent assassin, a seemingly innocent sister and soon a lovely humanoid alien, but I think she has the chops for Shakespeare. Cordelia is the most honest character in the play, if not all of Shakespeare’s works, she is the most devoted and loving of all the daughters but is ignored and invisible in her father’s eyes. There is something subtle and innocent in Saoirse look as well as her presence, there is strength but it isn’t in your face, she could make a heartbreaking Cordelia.Rachel Weisz as Goneril (Eldest Daughter) & Anne Hathaway as Regan (Middle Daughter) 
I have wanted to see these two play sisters for quite some time, not only do they have a similar look but they also have a similar acting style which I believe would be magic on screen. Weisz has played the lovely leading lady quite often but I really want to see her step out of that and give us someone we want to hate, and Goneril would be a great choice. I love the idea of Anne Hathaway taking a stab at Shakespeare not only because I appreciate the dorky pun (Shakespeare’s wife was named Anne Hathaway) but also because I think it would be a great follow-up to her performance as Fantine. I can envision great chemistry between these two actresses, and a good amount of tension for the trio of sisters, as the infighting, backstabbing and plotting unfolds throughout the play.The Gloucester FamilyIdris Elba as the Earl, Anthony Mackie as Edgar and Ben Winshaw as Edmund
The key to these choices is that I really want to see these men get more work in Hollywood, they are superbly talented and need to be given as many roles as possible so everyone can see how amazing they are. Also, I didn’t want to fall into the common mistake of whitewashing a Shakespeare film. There is no need, no matter what time period you set it in, for a Shakespeare film to be cast with only white actors, look at Much Ado About Nothing with Denzel Washington -  who better to play the prince! I believe also that the Earl of Gloucester needs to be played by someone who can believably stand next to Lear as a ruler in his own right, he is like Lear in that he is easily fooled by his children, but also shows great bravery and courage. (Also I just really want to see Elba tackle Shakespeare). Edgar and Edmund are dueling brothers parrallel to the sisters, with the illegitimate son, Edmund, acting villainous and evil but loved and honored by his father, and the older legitimate song Edgar having to stand up to his brother in the end. Both Mackie and Winshaw have shown they have a strength to them, and can easily steal a scene from bigger players, they just need to be given more time on screen to shine.Steve Coogan as The Fool
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This character is the real trick, an integral member of the cast who seems a fool but is really the source of reason and truth in the play. The Fool needs to be played by an actor who can give us ridiculous and serious in the same scene, without making us chuckle at the juxtaposition. Although named the fool he must be everything but. Coogan has the ability to give a silly character real heart and power, unlike an obvious choice like Carrell, Carey or a Jack Black type, he could keep us believing the entire time that he speaks for reason.Rounding Out the Cast
Kent – David Morrissey – An actor who has been around for quite sometime but has really come into the light because of a certain hit zombie show, Morrissey could easily play any Shakespeare character but I would love to see him play off of Sutherland.Albany (Goneril’s Husband) – John Hawkes – Another gem who needs more roles, he was brilliant on Deadwood and would be a great good hearted man to stand up to the evils of Weisz’s Goneril.Cornwall (Regan’s Husband) – James McAvoy – McAvoy tends to play the lighter characters, those who are sweet and charming, however like Weisz and Hathaway I would love to see him play with a crueler more domineering character like Cornwall.Oswald (Goneril’s Servant) – Billy Boyd - An aide to Goneril who does his bidding, perhaps out of love for her, he must be unassuming, charismatic but also devious, something I believe Boyd could do quite well.Now isn’t that a lovely and talented cast? Come on Hollywood, take some pointers please!

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