*. As an adaptation of King Lear I don’t think this Italian effort, directed by Gerolamo Lo Savio, is any kind of advance over the 1909 Vitagraph version, but it does go down a lot easier.
*. Not that it gives us a happy ending. I don’t know if anyone has ever filmed the Nahum Tate version of King Lear, even though that was the only version people saw for over a hundred years after the Restoration. No, this one has Lear getting ready to expire on Cordelia’s body at the end, though the only print I’ve seen breaks off just as he’s still crawling toward death.
*. What made it work for me? First of all the text has been cut to its bare essentials. There’s no subplot involving Gloucester and his sons. Indeed, none of these characters is even identified. All we get is the inheritance test, Kent in the stocks, the heath, and the tragic climax.
*. Another point that adds to the fun is the colourization. It’s actually quite well done, and the green of the heath makes it look like a great place for a picnic. Of course, that the barren heath maybe shouldn’t look so much like a park is another question. And there’s no storm at all. But then rendering a storm, especially shooting on location, wasn’t easy in 1910. You needed a lot of light. Probably better to stay in studio and use gimmicky effects, as was done by Vitagraph a year earlier.
*. The final thing that made this enjoyable were the moments of perhaps unintentional humour. A couple of examples. First, Lear strikes at a stone to show the hardness of his daughters’ hearts. This hurts his hand. I thought this was funny. Also, even more incongruously, comes the scene at the end where Lear holds what looks like a long stalk of grass (it’s not a feather, as in the play) to Cordelia’s face to check if she is breathing. What makes this funny is the fact that now there really is a storm blowing. Or at least quite a strong wind. The branches in the trees, the men’s robes, and Lear’s hair and beard are all being blown and tossed about. So the idea that holding the grass over Cordelia’s face is obviously ridiculous. You can see it blowing around in Lear’s hand even before he bends down. You could say this only assists his delusion that she’s alive, but it’s still quite funny.
*. A fun bit of history then, but as with the Vitagraph production it’s not a movie that will add much to anyone’s appreciation or understanding of the play or that points in any new directions in the development of film.