This film is part of Rentals

King Lear

An experimental truncation of Shakespeare's play, emphasising its essential physicality.

Drama 1976 45 mins


A harsh, barbaric vision of pre-medieval Britain, all flaming torches and inexplicably disturbing rituals. Prior familiarity with the text helps, because after witnessing the protagonists' symbolic birth we're dropped onto the blasted heath without a narrative map. Still, this interpretation offers an effective condensation of the play's themes and tone. Like Peter Brook and Grigori Kozintsev, director/adapter Steven Rumbelow favours high-contrast black and white imagery, illuminated by flickering flames.

King Lear was the filmdirectorial debut of Steven Rumbelow (1949-2016), adapted from his 1973 Triple Action Theatre production, which a member of the BFI Production Board saw and admired. The budget was tiny, but Rumbelow specifically wanted a bare bones, back-to-nature effect. While continuing as a stage director, he made similar low-budget independent productions of Saint Joan (1977) and Faust (1980), the latter based on multiple source texts, before turning to more commercial film and TV fare. He was the grandson of Alfred Rumbelow, founder of the Rumbelow's chain of shops.