‘Music by Shostakovich, subtitles by Shakespeare’, says the Time Out Film Guide in such wonderfully deadpan fashion that it bears repeating here. This Soviet-era version of ‘King Lear’ is a real delight, largely for its embrace of the more elemental features of Shakespeare’s play. When, in the depths of his madness, Lear (Jüri Järvet) strides into the wilderness accompanied by his fool (Oleg Dal), the film bursts into life as horses, dogs and hogs run wild, dark and foreboding clouds stream across the sky, and aerial shots show a devastated, cracked landscape. Beyond Lear’s castle, there lies a muddy, rocky and wild kingdom in which blind men wander aimlessly in rags and governance has collapsed. It’s this sense of anarchy, chaos and the disturbance of the natural order that most interests director Grigori Kozintsev and is the most rewarding element of the film.
Great, too, is the final battle scene that precedes Lear’s return to his kingdom. Like the rest of the film, it fuses the intimate and the general in fine, powerful fashion. Kozintsev’s film drags Shakespeare’s play off the stage and makes it a filmic triumph.