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May 2019



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TV Watch: The Dresser with Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins

Photo BBC. Edward Fox unrecognisable as the Fool. He was also in the 1983 film .

I still have strong memories of the original film of The Dresser, which starred Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, so my expectations of this production were high.

Ronald Harwood’s play is about a touring theatre company run by ‘Sir’ putting on King Lear in wartime, while air raid sirens go off. ‘Sir’, an ageing ham, seems unfit for the performance and is cajoled and bullied onto the stage by his long-time dresser, Norman. So there’s a play within a play, Lear inside The Dresser. The BBC production (by Richard Eyre) was lovely to look at: beautiful photography, perfect costumes and atmosphere. It was very stagey: a play filmed for television rather than a television play.

I have to say that Ian McKellen stole the show with his nervy, fidgety, vulnerable yet at times cruel performance as Norman. Anthony Hopkins somehow failed to shine as ‘Sir’. I did find myself in tears at the end, but that was due to Lear. Top quality TV and what we pay the licence fee for.


I saw the original film and enjoyed it very much. There was much to please in this production including the funny moments, sadness and an excellent supporting cast. Ian McKellan just shone in a role that was perfect for him. Anthony Hopkins is an esteemed actor and maybe it's just me, but he did what he always seems to do, speak different words in the same old Anthony Hopkins way. There's not much variation in the way he delivers a line. Oddly, I did quite like the little we saw of his Lear.
I agree with everything you say.
I thought maybe Michael Gambon would have been better than Anthony Hopkins?
Absolutely! He'd have been an excellent choice.
The old film and the new TV production are both worth seeing. I've had a thing since my teens about Finney and Courtenay, so I perhaps prefer the film :-)
Wonderful play.