The Story Plot in the Movie "King Lear"

by James Rutter
The BBC production closely followed Shakespeare's text.

The BBC production closely followed Shakespeare's text. Images

In 1982, the British Broadcasting Corporation filmed William Shakespeare's "King Lear," which the BBC televised later that same year. The BBC produced "King Lear" as part of its efforts to broadcast all of Shakespeare's plays. Shakespeare wrote this play between 1603 and 1606; it tells the story of the titular king. Tragedy befalls him when he attempts to retire from the throne and leave the kingdom in the hands of his three daughters.


King Lear, played by Michael Hordern, decides to abdicate his throne and leave the kingdom to his three daughters. However, he stages their inheritance as a contest, apportioning the land according to who proclaims the greatest love for him. His two wicked daughters -- Goneril, played by Gillian Barge, and Regan, played by Penelope Wilton -- flatter him with obvious exaggerations, while his youngest daughter, Cordelia, played by Brenda Blethyn, decides to speak honestly. Lear spurns her genuine display, disinherits her and splits his land evenly between Goneril and Regan, provided that they each maintain a retinue of 100 soldiers and servants for his care and protection. In admiration of her honesty, the king of France, played by Harry Waters, offers to marry Cordelia. Lear also casts out his once-trusted adviser Kent, played by John Shrapnel, after he objects to Cordelia's disinheritance.

Rising Action

Meanwhile, Edmund, played by Michael Kitchen, sabotages the relationship of his older brother Edgar -- played by Anton Lesser -- with their father, the Earl of Gloucester, played by Norman Rodway. Both Goneril and Regan believe that their father has lost his mind. Because they no longer need him, they kick Lear out, forcing him to wander the land. In order to help Lear avoid tragedy, Kent disguises himself as a servant to the now-wandering king. Gloucester falls for Edmund's trap and disinherits Edgar. While railing against a storm, Lear momentarily comes to his senses about his two daughters. He meets a disguised Edgar, who joins forces with Lear and Kent.


Edmund now plots against his father by joining forces with Regan, Goneril and Cornwall, played by Julian Curry. Gloucester has allied himself to France in their invasion of England. Cornwall blinds Gloucester, and as punishment, a servant kills Cornwall. Before shoving the blind Gloucester out into the wilderness, Regan lets him know of Edmund's treachery. Edgar finds his father and helps him. Although Goneril is married to Albany, played by John Bird, both she and Regan attempt to seduce Edmund. Kent and Lear join up with the French forces, but Lear goes insane upon hearing of all the treachery and plotting in his former kingdom and leaves them.

Falling Action

After killing Goneril's servant, Edgar discovers a letter from Goneril telling Edmund that they can be together if he kills her husband. Cordelia and Kent try to restore Lear's mental health. Although Albany has allied himself to England, and by extension Goneril and Regan, Edmund still plans to murder Albany. The British capture Lear and Cordelia after defeating the French in battle and Edmund orders their deaths. After the victory, Regan plans to marry Edmund.


Goneril poisons Regan to have Edmund for herself. Edgar kills his brother Edmund, removes his disguise and reunites with his father, who dies of happiness and shame that Edmund duped him. Goneril commits suicide after Albany shows the letter containing her treachery. The executioners have already killed Cordelia; Lear enters, carrying her body. He reunites with his trusted adviser Kent moments before dying of grief and shame. The kingdom passes to Edgar.

About the Author

Since 2005, James Rutter has worked as a freelance journalist for print and Internet publications, including the “News of Delaware County,” “Main Line Times” and Broad Street Review. As a former chemist, college professor and competitive weightlifter, he writes about science, education and exercise. Rutter earned a B.A. in philosophy and biology from Albright College and studied philosophy and cognitive science at Temple University.

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