The Dresser Directed by Richard Eyre
Based on the stage play by Ronald Harwood
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Ian McKellen, Emily Watson, Sarah Lancashire, Edward Fox, Vanessa Kirby, Tom Brooke Starz
Air Date: Monday, May 30th, 2016, 9:00pm
As the Nazis crash bombs down on England, an aging actor looks to enthrall audiences with an epic rendition of King Lear, one more time. The actor is unwell, having just checked himself out of a hospital, and it’s up to his dresser, Norman, to keep him upright and ready despite his wife’s objections and pleas to cancel the show. This is the plot description for The Dresser, based on Ronald Harwood’s play and the 1983 film of the same name, that garnered 5 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Director, Actor (two), and Screenplay. The movie premieres tonight on Starz, a channel that is gaining a reputation for out of the box thinking. With several successful original series crossing many genres, Starz is building as a rival to pay-cable big boys HBO and Showtime. And in an era where every big movie at the theaters is a special effects comic book blockbuster, it’s refreshing to step back to a time where sets were built by human hands and not computer artists, and the stakes in a performance were truly high.
Spoilers for The Dresser below.
The Dresser is modern Shakespeare, a tremendously acted film that felt more like I was watching a play than sitting at home watching on a screen. It’s apropos that Sir (Anthony Hopkins) is playing King Lear, because like Shakespeare’s tragic king, Sir is falling into despair and the decisions surrounding those closest to him are coming back to haunt him. Whereas Lear had his daughters, Lear has three people demanding his attention for various reasons. First is his dresser, Norman (Ian McKellen), who seems the only one to get through to the aging, sickly veteran. Then there’s his wife, Her Ladyship (Emily Watson), who is furious with him both for his mental and physical state, and their lifetime together with her in his shadow. Finally there is Madge (Sarah Lancashire), his oldest friend, and the only one who truly loves him unconditionally.
The supporting actors in the withering cast (due to young actors going off to war) all are loose interpretations of the supporting characters in Lear. Like Shakespeare, we watch the characters go through emotional highs and lows, deliver epic soliloquies, and encounter comedy and tragedy. Sir delivers his performance, and as much a struggle it is for everyone to get him on the stage, it’s more a struggle backstage, particularly some amazing one on one scenes between the leads and touching, tear-inducing scenes with Hopkins and both Watson and Lancashire and one of the strangest faux-seductions I’ve seen with a young up and comer Irene (Vanessa Kirby).
The Dresser is like live Shakespearean theatre, but rather than paying high prices for Broadway, you can watch it on Starz tonight. It is filled with Oscar winning and Oscar nominated actors delivering phenomenal performances, guaranteed to be up for multiple Emmys and Golden Globes. Hopkins and McKellen, both well versed in Shakespeare, put on some of the year’s best performances. I was thoroughly riveted by this, and after a Friday and Saturday night watching X-Men: Apocalypse and Captain America: Civil War back to back, this felt like a welcome shift in pace and a return to the calm days of old, where actors acted and a script flew off the page. No computer effects needed… this was theatre at its best.
The Dresser debuts tonight, Monday May 30th at 9:00pm ET on Starz.
The Dresser | Master & Assistant | STARZ
Extremely devotional and the guardian of the flame, Ian McKellen plays the dresser to Anthony Hopkin’s character, Sir. Watch as the cast and crew explain the intricate relationship between the two. See it on STARZ May 30th.