King of Texas (2002)
If only King of Texas (2002) was on a few months ago when I began An Unfinished Western (2014) when I translated William Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tye. I was told about this not long after I announced the work in progress, something I kept an eye open for, not sure when/if it would be available to view. What really sold me on this western take of King Lear the Shakespeare tragedy was Patrick Stewart who is no stranger to the bard’s work, having come from a rich background playing in practically all the plays, I’ve seen him take on a modernised version of Macbeth, playing the title role. For me though he will always be Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Professor Charles Xavier, two roles that came in later life. King Lear, or John Lear of Texas is a role that at first was hard to get my head around, a role that feels wholly American, even the first half hour or so. I couldn’t get passed Stewart putting on a Texan accent.
The rest of the cast however had an equally bland Texan accent which showed up the quality, of this TV-movie which relies entirely on the weight of Stewart who knew the material in its original for back to front and inside out. It was only a matter of setting really. Personally unfamiliar with the original play I was consciously working out when acts began and ended in the wild west tragedy.
Moving onto the crux of the film, not knowing the original play I had to sit back and ignore the poor accents to see an old mans world fall before his eyes. A cattle man who has built up an empire, made a family that has grown up and was going to be rewarded at the Texan independence celebration, cutting up the land to his three daughters in return for a show of their love. Something that comes easy for the elder two Susannah (Marcia Gay Harden) and Rebecca (Lauren Holly) who profess their love that bowls him over. A task that doesn’t come so easy to his youngest Claudia (Julie Cox) whose inability hurts the old man, practically running her off into the arms of his enemy Menchaca (Steven Bauer).
This show of love was nothing but a show for a man who we can see age is starting to show on the once great strong man. The two remaining daughters are traditional strong Shakespearean women who walk all over the men in their lives. In a traditionally male genre they wear the boots in this film. The older men in the film are losing their strength to the young and capable, a new generation not willing to look after their elders ride all over the strong foundations. Making a new path, that leads all the way to disaster and ultimately death.
To fully understand and enjoy this film I need to read, or see the play, having a basic understand of how it plays out. Then I can see what has been brought over and translated. There are aspects that I do grasp which allow for a partial reading. Overall for a TV-movie, something that I usually avoid King of Texas is a decent film, and telling of a classic tale, set in another dangerous world that fits perfectly into Shakespeare’s.