King Lear (1916)
Director: Ernest C. Warde
Cast: Frederick Warde, Lorraine Huling, Wayne Arey
Synopsis: Lear is an old man blind to his weaknesses. He decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters according to who recites the best declaration of love.
This early version of Shakespeare’s King Lear from the Thanhauser studio is something of a family affair with Ernest C. Warde directing his father, the popular Shakespearean stage actor Ernest Warde in the title role as well as playing the part of the King’s Fool himself. With a running time of 63 minutes it’s only natural that this version perhaps doesn’t stick quite as closely to the Bard’s words as later versions would, but in a way that – and the fact that it is silent – works in the movie’s favour because it made Shakespeare’s work accessible and understandable to those who would not have otherwise had any kind of exposure to his work. Made in 1916, it was one of a number of film adaptations released at the time of the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death.
It’s a better version than those that had come before, but it’s burdened by the theatrical gestures of the cast who seem unable to grasp the fact that they don’t have to play to the back seats when they’re performing in front of a camera. The plot is easy to follow, however, reducing Shakespeare’s play to a series of crosses and double-crosses, and the sheer age of the piece gives it an added element of interest.
(Reviewed 7th February 2013)