Director Billy Lumby’s gripping four-minute recreation of King Lear Act II, Scene 4 takes place in a care home, bringing new resonance to the story and language. The protagonist, played by Phil Davis, begins lost and confused, but grows embittered and angry as he starts to distrust his daughters, and as such, the film becomes increasingly intense and disorientating.
Billy, whose film Samuel-613 for Dazed & Confused was nominated for a Bafta this year, was commissioned by the British Council to create the film for the Shakespeare Lives series. Produced by Colonel Blimp, it celebrates the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death.
“Most of the big plays had already been taken but I’ve always been a fan of King Lear,” Billy tells It’s Nice That of the brief. “The original story is about growing old, losing one’s powers, respect, ego, hubris, being usurped by the next generation, madness, and ultimately the chaotic and unjust nature of the universe. I thought I’d tap into that by setting it in a nursing home.”
Beyond the original story, Billy’s short film also explores modern issues of dementia and caring for elderly family members. “The play’s themes of aging and family relationships are pretty timeless and universal. Elderly people can feel undervalued and abandoned. Lear is betrayed by his scheming daughters, who steal his wealth and power after putting him in a home. In real life, this can be a difficult time for families, and dementia can confuse the situation further.”
Since the scene has been performed on stage countless times, Billy says he saw this as an opportunity to do something cinematic, “to capture the essence of the play in a visual way. I really wanted to feel Lear’s escalating madness”. The director uses a variety of techniques to convey Lear’s memories, emotions and “him losing his grip on reality”. This included hiring a vulture called Walter for the day, and bringing in wind machines for added drama. “The animals, the hallucinations and the storm are all straight from the Bard himself.”
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