“The Dresser” brings together Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen working together on film for the first time. Both men were acclaimed for their own stage roles as Shakespeare’s great tormented king: Hopkins at The National Theatre under the direction of David Hare in 1986 and Ian McKellen in Trevor Nunn’s production for the RSC in 2007. The television film is directed by Richard Eyre who directed an award winning production of the play with Ian Holm for the National Theatre in 1997.
Rounding out the stellar cast are Emily Watson (The Theory of Everything, War Horse) as “Her Ladyship” and Sarah Lancashire (“Happy Valley,” “Last Tango in Halifax”) as stage manager “Madge.” Also in the cast are Vanessa Kirby as “Irene,” Edward Fox as “Thornton,” Tom Brooke as “Oxenby/Edmond,” John Ashton as “Gloucester,” Ian Conningham as “Kent,” Annalisa Rossi as “Goneril,” Helen Bradbury as “Regan,” Carl Sanderson as “Cornwall,” Matthew Cottle as “Albany” and Martin Chamberlain as “Gentleman.”
“The Dresser” tells the story of one fateful night in a small regional theatre during World War II as a troupe of touring actors stage a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Bombs are falling, sirens are wailing, the curtain is up in an hour but the actor/manager “Sir” who is playing Lear is nowhere to be seen. His dresser “Norman” must scramble to keep the production alive but will Sir turn up in time and if he does will he be able to perform that night?
The play is one of the great portraits of life in the theatre and was first adapted for the screen by Harwood himself 32 years ago, in the 1983 Peter Yates film starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay. The current production reverts to Ronald Harwood’s original text and presents the play as it was written for the stage.