The two will take leads in Richard Eyre’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”
James Ivory’s 1993 adaptation of “The Remains of the Day” – written by this year’s Nobel Prize-winner for Literature Kazuo Ishiguro – demonstrated just how well Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson work together. Now, more than 20 years later, the two will be reconciled for another literary adaptation. As Deadline are reporting, the duo will take lead roles in King Lear, writer-director Richard Eyre’s modern retelling of Shakespeare’s play, which will be aired on Amazon Prime and the BBC in 2018. This will be Eyre’s second attempt at directing a “Lear” adaptation for the camera, following his 1998 TV movie starring Ian Holm.
One of the last major remakes of the Bard’s play, which Hopkins was set to star in, was canceled in 2009. The other, a Michael Radford-helmed vehicle for Al Pacino, is yet to get off the ground since being announced in 2009, either. In comparison, this announcement comes fully-stocked with casting info and an approaching air-date, making it a much more solid project for Shakespeare fans to look forward to.
Hopkins and Thompson have an acclaimed history of collaboration. Their ‘90s-era turns in Merchant-Ivory productions Howards End and The Remains of the Day showcase their individual skill but mainly demonstrate just how well the two play off each other. Thompson picked up a Best Actress Oscar for Howards End, while both her and Hopkins were Oscar-nominated for their tragic chemistry in Ivory’s adaptation of Ishiguro’s novel. It’s been more than 20 years since they last graced a screen together, but with their shared history, King Lear should give audiences a long-awaited treat.
The overarching themes of the original text make “King Lear” a highly adaptable, perpetually topical tale, so it makes sense that Eyre’s adaptation will take place in a fictional British present. The story is, ultimately, one of tragedy in the classic Shakespearean vein. The Bard’s five-act play begins at the end of the titular King’s ruling days. After a long reign, the 80-year old Lear is keen to step down from the throne and its accompanying responsibilities, so he sets out a plan to divide the kingdom amongst his 3 daughters: Goneril (Thompson), Regan (Emily Watson), and Cordelia (Florence Pugh).
Before he finalizes who gets what portion of the map, though, Lear makes a characteristically irrational request, demanding to know which of his daughters loves Daddy the most. While his two eldest flatter their father’s ego, Cordelia (his favorite) is mortified at her sisters’ plainly exaggerated responses. She tells Lear she loves him as much as a daughter should – no more, no less – but her honest and modest declaration of love is not enough for her egotistical father. Enraged by her unwillingness to play the game, Lear cuts her out of his will and banishes her from the kingdom. Level-headed advisor Kent (Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter) tries to dissuade him, but the impetuous king’s mind is made up, and Kent earns himself exile, too.
The introduction of a subplot revolving around noble Gloucester (Jim Broadbent) complicates things, as Gloucester’s legitimate son Edgar (Sherlock’s Andrew Scott) is framed for conspiracy to commit patricide by his embittered bastard brother Edmund (John Macmillan), one of Lear‘s chief villains.
Thompson’s character is another such malefactor, as Goneril and her sister begin to reveal their true natures post-Lear’s abdication. Despite him showing increasing signs of insanity, the wicked daughters slam the door on their aging father, leaving him to aimlessly wander a heath amidst a raging storm. (Lear is sometimes portrayed as nude during these scenes, a creative decision Eyre has opted for in the past.)
What follows is a grab bag of such characteristically Shakespearean brutalities as eye-gouging, romantic betrayal, and military invasion. The Bard’s writing here often ruminates on father-child relationships, which usually provides audiences with plenty of opportunities to see Goneril and Lear together. Given that director Eyre tends to stay faithful to his literary source material (Notes on a Scandal, The Ploughman’s Lunch), it’s highly likely Hopkins and Thompson will be given ample chances to work their joint screen magic again.
Hopkins has a healthy amount of experience playing Lear. At the age of 49, he performed the title role at the UK’s National Theatre, earning equal amounts of praise and criticism. Sir Peter Hall, for instance, thought his performance was “incandescent” at times, although he described Hopkins’ run as starting “shakily”. Just a year after he gave this mixed rendition of Lear, Hopkins quit the theatre.
Emily Watson, who will play one of Lear’s daughters, joined Hopkins in another of his Lear-related performances. Through a meta-narrative, The Dresser – which was also directed by Eyre – explores the complex relationship between Sir (Hopkins), a tyrannical actor playing King Lear, and his backstage dresser (Ian McKellen). Reviewers bestowed particular praise on the parts of the film in which Hopkins’ character plays the tyrannical King, and his clear relishing of the role may well have inspired him to take on the Shakespearean part again. Now just a year off Lear’s actual age, there’s no better time for Hopkins to return and right the apparent wrongs of his first attempt at the role.
Thompson has never played Goneril before, but her general familiarity with the material can only make this part easier for her. She was Cordelia in a 1994 BBC Radio production and appeared as the Fool in a 1990 stage production directed by her then-husband Kenneth Branagh. While her good-guy filmography can’t tell us much about how she’ll take to the villain role, her acting prowess is certain enough to indicate she won’t disappoint here.
Like Watson and Hopkins, Thompson has also enjoyed a successful working relationship with King Lear’s director-writer Eyre. She was directed by him in The Children Act, which played at TIFF to excellent reviews and earned Thompson particular acclaim for her elevating performance. As with her cast members on King Lear, her partnership with Eyre seems to produce high-brow, stellar results, meaning the wait may well turn out to have been worth it for long-anticipating Lear fans.