King Lear in ninety-five
minutes? Set in the Old West? It seems a bit of a stretch at first, but with
Patrick Stewart in the title role, returning to his Shakespearian-actor roots,
I was willing to give King of Texas a shot. As it turns out, this film
offers an entertaining and well-handled take on the classic play. The English
king Lear becomes John Lear (Patrick Stewart), a cattle baron who, as in the
original play, decides to divide his land among his three daughters without
realizing what a can of worms he's about to open.
King of Texas is a full
adaptation, rather than a direct filmed version of the play: that is, the
storyline, main characters, and key scenes are retained, but the dialogue is
modern and not directly based on Shakespeare's dialogue. The result is a very
accessible film for those who haven't read the play, and while I personally
would have enjoyed hearing more of Shakespeare's own poetic language, I can see
that the "complete" nature of the adaptation enables it to fit better
into the Old West setting.
The Texas setting in fact works
very well for the transplantation of the English story of Lear. Vast tracts of
land for raising cattle are as much a temptation for the avaricious as Lear's
original English kingdom, and blood feuds, vengeance, double-crossing, and
deadly sibling rivalry are just a normal part of the landscape in Texas at this
time, recently independent from Mexico after a war of conquest by U.S.
settlers. The film manages to include all the key scenes from the play, which
are essential in building the story steadily toward its tragic end; for those
who haven't read the play, I won't go into details, as it would spoil several
key scenes, but in any case it's interesting to see how well the English story
translates to its new setting.
King Lear is a bloody
story, make no mistake, and King of Texas doesn't shy away from
presenting its characters as menacing, yet very realistic, in their willingness
to do whatever it takes to get ahead in life. As the story develops, Patrick
Stewart does an excellent job of portraying the aging Lear as a man who,
despite his successes in empire-building, has no understanding of his own
family. It's from King Lear that comes the famous line "How sharper
than a serpent's tooth it is / To have a thankless child", but Lear's
folly is that he fails to understand the way that genuine love and gratefulness
are earned, and expressed. The strength of Lear in both the original play and
in King of Texas is that we can feel pity for the character without
completely liking him; he does, after all, bring all this on his own head.
The film admittedly never quite
achieves the epic feel that a Shakespearean adaptation ought to have. King
Lear is a great tragedy, and given the compression of the story into a
fairly short running time, the actors do a creditable job in bringing out the
highlights of their characters and the story; what's missing is a bit more
depth, a bit more development of the material so that the conclusion, which is
quite affecting as it is, could become truly moving.
Even though it was originally a
made-for-television movie, King of Texas has been given a nice transfer
worthy of a feature film. The DVD has an anamorphic widescreen image that
preserves the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. With the broad vistas of
the Texas landscape, including some quite artistic compositions in several
scenes, it's nice to get the correct scope of the film on DVD.
As far as image quality goes, King
of Texas is above average. There's a fair amount of noise in the image, and
some edge enhancement is visible, but it doesn't detract too much from the
overall appearance of the film. Both colors and contrast are excellent: a
varied palette of colors is used throughout the film, such as in the yellows,
browns, and blues of the Texas earth and sky, as well as nicely-represented
skin tones and clothing colors.
King of Texas is
presented with only a Dolby 2.0 track, which is a bit of a disappointment since
this is a film that would have had a chance to shine with a 5.1 track. Many
scenes involve sound effects that could have been given a good surround
treatment, such as gunfights, cattle herds, and horses running; in King of
Texas, these scenes have a somewhat flat sound to them with the stereo
presentation. The dialogue, music, and environmental effects are properly
balanced, and the actors' voices are always clear; though it could have been
much better, overall the soundtrack for King of Texas comes in at a
notch above average.
We get minimal special features
in King of Texas: just a cast and crew listing with only a few items
selectable for more information. It's packaged in a snapper case, with
easy-to-navigate, simply themed menus.
King of Texas is an
enjoyable take on Shakespeare's King Lear, and by virtue of
transplanting the Bard's epic tale to the Old West, it makes for an interesting
western as well. It lacks the depth that a longer, more developed film could
have had, but King of Texas handles the dramatic material quite
credibly. With its reasonably good anamorphic transfer to DVD, King of Texas