Sir Ian McKellan is one of the towering figures of our time. I've seen him live in The Duchess of Malfi and was thunder-struck. His screen performances as James Whale, Richard III and Gandolph are legendary. The advance word on this PBS adaptation of his King Lear was as if listening to the angels harkening the second coming. Indeed, Sir Ian's performance may have been astonishing, but the absolute mediocrity with which he was surrounded left me in a kind of stupor, unable to appreciate any good in the production at all. Lear, the quintessential Anglo King, has been dropped in the midst of some revolution era Russian landscape. It doesn't work - the costumes are hideous, the acting style verges on the laugable with the supporting folk - like they're immitating the worst of what we've heard of 19th century pre-Moscow Art Theatre acting. The cinematography is such that one can't really see the production. For a Lear, even incomplete as it is, I much prefer the bits we get from William Hutt in the Canadian TV Series Slings & Arrows, or even Albert Finney as Sir in The Dresser. I also prefer Ran, A Thousand Acres and the Olivier Lear to this.
A great disappointment.