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Derek Jacobi, from 'The King's Speech' to 'King Lear'

January 26, 2011 | 10:30 am

Jacobi1

Astute viewers of "The King's Speech" will no doubt have recognized the clever casting of Derek Jacobi in the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The British actor first rose to international prominence in the television miniseries "I, Claudius," based on the Robert Graves novel, that aired on PBS in 1977. Jacobi played the Roman emperor who learned to conquer his stammer (among other challenges) to become a widely admired ruler.

The makers of "The King's Speech" -- which earned 12 Academy Award nominations on Tuesday -- almost certainly had Jacobi's "I, Claudius" performance in mind when they set about telling their own story of a royal who must overcome a speech impediment. As reported in The Times, Jacobi even warned actor Colin Firth, who plays Britain's George VI, that affecting a stutter would be a hard habit to shake.

In recent weeks, much of the cast of "The King's Speech" has been riding shotgun with producer Harvey Weinstein around the Hollywood awards circuit. But Jacobi has been hard at work on another project -- playing the title role of Shakespeare's "King Lear" in London. The production, by the Donmar Warehouse, runs through Feb. 5 and has earned Jacobi strong reviews.

In the U.S., fans will get a chance to experience "Lear" when the production is broadcast to cinemas next month as part of the National Theatre Live series. In Los Angeles, the play will be shown at the Mann Chinese 6 on Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. The broadcast will be repeated on Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Jacobi2 "Lear," directed by Michael Grandage, represents the culmination of Jacobi's lengthy Shakespearean career. The actor has played many of the Bard's heroes -- including Hamlet, Benedick, Richard II, Richard III and Prospero. On screen, he performed in Kenneth Branagh's adaptations of "Henry V" and "Hamlet."

The Donmar production of "Lear" also stars Gina McKee as Goneril and Pippa Bennett-Warner as Cordelia. A reviewer for Britain's Telegraph called the production "outstanding, the finest and most searching Lear I have ever seen," adding that "Jacobi, enjoying a blaze of autumnal glory as an actor, captures the full depth and breadth of the character."

But a reviewer for The Independent was not as impressed, writing that there is "something guarded and 'worked out' about [the production], but it is most beautifully spoken and detailed." The review also states that unlike recent Lears, including Ian Holm and Ian McKellen, Jacobi spares us the full monty when his character goes insane.

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-- David Ng

Top photo: Geoffrey Rush, left, Colin Firth and Derek Jacobi in "The King's Speech." Credit: The Weinstein Company

Bottom photo: Jacobi in "King Lear." Credit: Johan Persson / Donmar Warehouse

 

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