One of the major distinctions between a literary text and its film adaptations is the compression of long scenes into short scripts to make it convenient for stage acting. In addition, film adaptations tend to make changes to the original text to suit the film director's goals. This is especially the case where it is impractical to imitate original scenes convincingly, such as in creating surreal environments and magical atmospheres. In addition, film adaptation is sometimes designed to identify with the context of the audience. These changes are visible in the 2008 film (directed by Trevor Nunn) adaptation of William Shakespeare's King Lear. While the play features long scenes, the film portrays a shorter version that highlights major scenes and events. This essay compares and contrasts the play King Lear by William Shakespeare and its film adaptation of the same title by Trevor Nunn. Although the film introduces new elements such as King Lear's nudity as well as deviates from the play's original ending, it generally keeps with the text play's plot and character cast.
One of the major deviation of the film from the play is the elimination of the epic battles. While the play portrays the epic battles that the English and French monarchs engaged in, these scenes are given little prominence in the film. In addition, the film introduces guns, which are absent in the play. The introduction of guns could be explained by the director's desire to make the battle scenes relevant to a twenty first century audience that is used to Hollywood's blockbuster action thrillers, where guns are used as the major weapons for assault. Similarly, the film's scenes are accompanied with organ music, acoustic elements that the play lacks.
The character of King Lear in the film is strikingly different in personality from the play. While the play depicts an aging king who has decided to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, the film's King Lear is an active character who cuts the figure of a stately royal. This personality is reinforced by the king's royal dress in the intriduction. King Lear does not project the image of a frail and vulnerable king like in the play. Although his vulnerability becomes evident later in the film, initially King Lear cuts a majesty image in his royal court. This image is perhaps reinforced by the film's visual effect that the play lacks.
However, nothing is as strikingly distinguishing as the King's nudity in the film and the sexual overtones suggested by Edmund's sexual attraction to King Lear's eldest daughters, Regan and Goneril. Nudity is a new element in the film when Ian McKellen, who acts the role of King Lear, bares his body either as a manifestation of madness or in protest against the betrayal by his daughters. The ambiguity in interpreting the King's nudity is another point of deviation with regards to the play's thematic concern. King Lear's wandering in the wild in the play could be easily explained as a manifestation of his insanity. However, the King's son, Edgar, says in act four of the film that King Lear's nudity is a portrayal of “reason in madness,” suggesting that he is the only sane person there is. This is because he is the only one who is rational enough to go insane over the evils of sexual immorality betrayal taking place. King Lear's nudity, therefore, is perhaps Nunn's way of providing a new understanding of the King's madness. While the play portrays King Lear as truly insane, the film suggests that he is more rational than the rest because his nudity is a metaphor; a protest against betrayal and immorality.
The ending of the film is also sparklingly different from the play. While play ends with Edgar's taking over the reigns of the kingdom, the film portrays a reluctant character seeking answers to the cause of the evils, ambitions, and betrayal that destroys kingdoms. The film ends with Edgar asking God why all this suffering, and the lack of an answer suggests the film's denial of God's existence.
Nevertheless, the film maintains the play's major themes, mainly family and political betrayal as well as the collapse of moral values in society. The betrayal of King Lear by his two oldest daughters Regan and Goneril in the play is repeated in the film. Similarly, Cordelia, the youngest daughter, maintains her innocence as a victim of the King's misguided expectations of his daughters. In both cases, the King falls into Regan's and Goneril’s flattery and false declarations of their love for him. In contrast, Cordelia refuses to flatter her father with words, whilst deep down she loves him dearly.
In Conclusion, the play King Lear by William Shakespeare and its film adaptation by Trevor Nunn a number of differences. The first and most evident is the introduction of acoustic elements in the film, where organ music accompanies the various scenes. Secondly, the epic battles of the play are minimized in the play, while King Lear is portrayed differently in terms of his personality and the meaning of his madness. While the play portrays his madness as a consequence of his sense of betrayal which makes him to wander in the wild, the film suggests that King Lear does not lose his senses at all. The film portrays nudity as a way of King Lear's protest against the betrayal and immorality of his older daughters. These differences notwithstanding, however, the film maintains the play's original character cast and plot as well as thematic concerns.