King Lear (1987 film)

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King Lear
File:Godard King Lear.jpg
French theatrical poster for King Lear
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Produced by Yoram Globus
Menahem Golan
Jean-Luc Godard
Tom Luddy
Written by William Shakespeare (play)
Cinematography Sophie Maintigneux
Edited by Jean-Luc Godard
Distributed by Cannon Films
Release dates
  • September 15, 1987 (1987-09-15)
Running time
90 minutes
Country United States
Language French

King Lear is a 1987 cinematic adaptation of the Shakespeare play of the same title, directed by Jean-Luc Godard. The script is primarily by Peter Sellars and Tom Luddy. The film's plot, centred on a late descendant of Shakespeare attempting to restore his plays in a world rebuilding itself after the Chernobyl catastrophe obliterates most of human civilisation, is centred on a resort in Nyon, Vaud, Switzerland.


  • Peter Sellars as William Shakespeare Jr. the Fifth, a descendant of the renowned bard charged with restoring his ancestor's work.
  • Burgess Meredith as Don Learo, a prominent gangster visiting the Swiss resort patronised by Shakespeare Jr. the Fifth with his daughter.
  • Molly Ringwald as Cordelia, the daughter of gangster Don Learo, with whom she converses in lines from Shakespeare.
  • Jean-Luc Godard as Professor Pluggy, an eccentric professor obsessed with Xeroxing his own hand.
  • Freddy Buache as Professor Quentin
  • Leos Carax as Edgar
  • Julie Delpy as Virginia

The film also features uncredited cameos by Woody Allen as a film editor named Mr. Alien, Kate and Norman Mailer as themselves, Michèle Pétin and Suzanne Lanza. At the beginning of his acting career, director Quentin Tarantino falsely claimed to have played a part in the film in his resume, assuming that casting agents in Hollywood were unfamiliar with the film.[1][2]


The film has an approval rating of 50% on the ratings aggregator[3]

The New York Times review by Vincent Canby compares it unfavourably to the rest of Godard's oeuvre as "tired, familiar and out of date", remarking that the few lines of Shakespeare delivered in the play overpower his dialogue, making it "seem much punier than need be". Nonetheless, Canby praises the acting as "remarkably good under terrible circumstances".[4]

Desson Howe of the Washington Post similarly criticises Godard for inappropriately imposing his unique style on Shakespeare's work - "Where the playwright values clarity and poetry, Godard seems to go for obfuscation and banality. Shakespeare aims for universality, while Godard seeks to devalue everything." - whilst reserving praise for the editing and cinematography.[5]

Also commenting in The Washington Post, Hal Hinson classifies the film as a "labored, not terribly funny practical joke", "infuriating, baffling, challenging and fascinating" in which Godard "trashes his own talent".[6]

Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times, however, called it, "a work of certified genius", and Richard Brody, writing in the New Yorker, described it and Godard's In Praise of Love as "great films that are even more aesthetically radical than his earlier ones";[7] Brody has called the film his "favorite movie of all time."[8]

Box office

The film earned $61,821 against an estimated budget of $2,000,000.


  1. "Quentin Tarantino Archives". Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  2. "A talk with Quentin Tarantino". Google Books. Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  3. King Lear at
  4. "Godard in His Mafia 'King Lear'" by Vincent Canby, published in the New York Times 22-01-88, retrieved 13-08-08.
  5. "King Lear" review by Desson Howe, published in the Washington Post 17-06-88, retrieved 13-08-08
  6. "King Lear" review by Hal Hinson, published in the Washington Post 18-06-88, retrieved 13-08-08
  7. "Auteur Wars: Godard, Truffaut, and the Birth of the New Wave," by Richard Brody, published in the New Yorker 07-04-08
  8. "What Would Have Saved 'Saving Mr. Banks'" by Richard Brody.

External links