Some of Shakespeare's plays are more beleaguered by acting than others. That is, some plays offer more of those notorious passages in which a performer will feel obliged to acquit him or herself well, to leap the hurdle which the lines so conspicuously raise up. At such moments the question in the audience's mind is as likely to be "how are they doing?" as "what are they feeling?", and only a really incandescent performance is going to be able to burn off that impurity. That in turn increases the pressure towards sheer emotional volume, a fierceness in attack that won't necessarily be what the lines most require. King Lear (BBC2) offers two famously challenging obstacles, the storm scene and that in which Lear re-appears carrying Cordelia's corpse. All of which is a reluctant, dawdling preamble to the judgement that, for all its virtues, Ian Holm's performance in Richard Eyre's production never entirely transcended such anxieties.
Reluctant because this is a lonely place to be (Holm's performance in the National production on which this was based was placed on an altar and worshipped). Reluctant too because Eyre's rethinking of the play for television was so consistently intelligent about how to film Shakespeare so that it wouldn't appear boxed in or stifled. Bob Crowley's design was neither naturalistic nor conventionally theatrical - a sound stage large enough to lose its margins in mist or darkness for exterior scenes and to accommodate immense processional vistas for interiors. Most scenes were furnished only with light and shade, so that the actors stood out against a grim monochrome geometry . But as well as stripping down the stage picture so that your eye turned naturally to the human face, Eyre also knew how to use the camera's ability to take the process even further. Sometimes he simply made extraneous details disappear with an extended close-up; when Burgundy was equivocating over his marriage to the dispossessed Cordelia, Eyre didn't show him. As he argued off screen with the King of France you saw Holm's face, staring with rage at the daughter who had just proved that she was his truest kin, inheritor of her father's obstinacy and pride. When necessary the frame contracted even closer still - Eyre opened the film with Edgar smoking a piece of glass to observe the "late eclipses of the sun and moon", a fine inaugural emblem for a play which is so concerned with clouded and occluded vision. He then cut to an image of Edmund's eye gleaming malevolently from the darkness.
To my mind the performances were less finely judged. Though there were excellent performances here (including Michael Bryant's elderly fool) there was also something a touch strident about the general company - as if those taking part felt the need to compensate for the echoing spaces around them with sheer amplification. This tipped the play into inaudibility during the storm scene, when a wind machine added its voice to the general clamour. But such flaws counted for little against the sweep and energy of the thing. Shakespeare on screen is rarely so confident and arresting.
In Ruby Wax Meets... (BBC1) the Goneril of light entertainment went backstage at the Jerry Springer Show, a vile talk-show which converts private emotional distress into public spectacle. The episode Wax followed included two transexuals who had decided to tell their unwitting boyfriends the chromosomal truth in front of an audience of 17 million. At least one didn't have any illusions about the effect of this revelation: "I really think he's going to be hurt mentally and physically," she said. . He probably hurt his knuckles, because he punched her when he found out, to the unbridled glee of the audience. Given that nerveless audacity is one of Wax's virtues it would have been interesting if she could have asked any of those taking part how they could be so moronically cruel - but she was too busy bustling around as an impertinent peacemaker. I thought Bernard Manning's appearance on The Mrs Merton Show (BBC1) was going to be the week's most queasy viewing, but this came close at times.Reuse content