*. I believe this is the oldest surviving film adaptation of King Lear that we have, and it gives a pretty good idea of what early filmmakers were up against. Lear is a messy play in terms of its action and characters. and in ten minutes it’s kind of hard to make a version that’s comprehensible. As it’s presented here, I don’t think anyone unfamiliar with the play would have the faintest idea what was going on, even with the aid of the title cards.
*. So best to stick with the big moments, which come down to three: the opening scene where the three daughters are called upon to profess their love, then Lear on the heath, and finally Lear dying over Cordelia. Also the image of Kent in the stocks is usually thrown in for visual effect, though in most cases he’s in and out of them in a trice.
*. The first and the last of the big scenes are handled in an adequate if perfunctory way. But the storm on the heath is actually pretty impressive, with lightning being produced by scratching the film itself. No, it’s obviously not a man out in a storm, but compared to how the scene was played in the 1910 Italian version it’s a tempest.
*. What this film in particular is often called out for is trying to do too much. The 1910 film that I mentioned did a radical pruning but here they seemed to want to get everything in. This results in chaos, with the action of Edgar turning into Poor Tom and then coming back to kill Edmund all rushed through at rapid speed. You even get to see Edgar hiding in the hollow tree, which is something he only describes having done in the play. In other words, there’s actually stuff here that you wouldn’t likely see in any stage production.
*. The costumes, sets and backdrops are nice. I like the hollow tree. I also like the cliffs of Dover and Stonehenge showing up. Poor Tom makes a wreath of hay in the hovel that looks a bit like a crown of thorns. And you can’t deny it’s lively enough throughout. Appreciation can’t go much beyond this, however, and any deep analysis is impossible.