King Lear: Anthony Hopkins heads astonishing cast for BBC's Bank Holiday epic

Thursday, 24th May 2018, 1:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th May 2018, 3:38 pm

Brace yourselves for weighty Bank Holiday drama with an impressive cast this coming Monday, as Sir Anthony Hopkins steps into the shoes of a modern, epic BBC rendition of King Lear.

Devised by Hopkins and director Richard Eyre, this new screen adaptation transports Shakespeare's already gritty historical narrative to a fictional version of 21st century Britain.

But what stands out from the off is its remarkable roster of acting talent:

Hopkins as LearEmma Thompson as GonerilEmily Watson as ReganFlorence Pugh as CordeliaJim Broadbent as GloucesterChristopher Eccleston as OswaldJohn Macmillan as EdmundAndrew Scott as EdgarJim Carter as KentTobias Menzies as Cornwall

Many of those names speak for themselves. Rising star Pugh, meanwhile, shot to prominence with her extraordinary lead turn in the dark period drama Lady Macbeth, one of our films of 2017.

"Richard Eyre has assembled an unmissable cast to embody his vision for a timeless but deeply resonant screen adaptation of King Lear," says Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama.

A modern take on a 'monstrous, tragic tale'

King Lear's story revolves around the 80-year-old monarch of the title, whose downfall begins when he decides to split his kingdom among his daughters according to how much they express their love for him.

A bitter power struggle in his own family, and that of Gloucester's (here re-imagined as the Prime Minister), ensues.

Hopkins as Lear and Pugh as Cordelia, whose refusal to pander to her father's vanity sets in motion a grand tragedy (Photo: BBC)

With its revised setting, transported to an alternative present-day Britain, Eyre's drama will take in modern issues, with scenes set in shopping centres and refugee camps.

Speaking recently, Eyre dubbed Lear "the ultimate family drama: a monstrous, tragic tale of a family destroying itself", and spoke of his hope that "there are extra contemporary resonances" with this take.

He has even teased House Of Cards-style asides to camera. Though pressed on a certain modern day parallel, he insisted it has more to say about "Stalin and other violent autocrats" than Donald Trump.

Quite the undertaking

Eyre, whose 1997 theatre production of Lear was renowned, is a celebrated director on both stage and screen.

His TV work includes fellow acclaimed Shakespearean adaptation The Hollow Crown, while his movie CV boasts the award-winning Iris and absorbing Notes On A Scandal - both of which saw him collaborate with Dame Judi Dench.

Hopkins is probably best-known for his cinematic appearances, but his shift to television with a leading turn in HBO drama Westworld proved a justly acclaimed masterclass. As did his recent viral video.

Sibling rivalry: Emily Watson and Emma Thompson co-star as the ambitious Goneril and Regan (Photo: BBC)

King Lear is a co-production between the BBC and Amazon (who will also air it on their Prime Video service in the US, and UK, following the BBC run). At nearly two hours it's quite the undertaking - though that is still a reduction on the original 3-hour Shakespearean epic.

Some viewers may find their desire for Shakespearean gravitas tempered by cult comedy, however.

The finale of Peter Kay's Car Share clashes with it, over on BBC One.

King Lear is on at 9.30pm on Monday, May 28 on BBC Two

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[Main image: BBC]