Meet the cast of BBC2’s King Lear

Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson and Emily Watson lead the A-List cast of the BBC's new Shakespeare drama

King Lear

If any member of the King Lear cast asks, “who is it that can tell me who I am?,” we have the answer – with this handy guide to the characters and actors in the BBC’s latest Shakespeare drama.

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The two-hour Bank Holiday Monday special has been adapted by Bafta and Olivier Award-winning director Richard Eyre and features an all-star cast, with Anthony Hopkins in the title role.

Before the drama airs on Monday 28th May at 9.30pm on BBC2, meet the cast and characters of King Lear…


Anthony Hopkins plays King Lear 

Anthony Hopkins plays King Lear

Who is King Lear? The ageing king of Britain, who demands flattery and praise and doesn’t appreciate being contradicted or challenged. Now he intends to split his kingdom between his three daughters – according to the degree of affection they are willing to show him.

What else has Anthony Hopkins been in? Now officially known as Sir Anthony Hopkins, the 80-year-old actor’s career has spanned six decades. His credits include The Silence of the Lambs, Thor, The Remains of the Day, Nixon, The Lion in Winter, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Hannibal. Recently we’ve seen him as Dr Robert Ford in the TV series Westworld.


Emma Thompson plays Goneril

Emma Thompson plays Goneril in King Lear

Who is Goneril? King Lear’s ruthless eldest daughter. She professes her deep love for him, but once she has achieved power she betrays him and plots his murder.

What else has Emma Thompson been in? Since the late 1980s, Emma Thompson has been a familiar face on film and TV, earning a bunch of Baftas, Golden Globes and Oscars. Her credits have included Howards End, The Remains of the Day, Beauty and the Beast, Saving Mr Banks, and Sense and Sensibility. She gave a memorable performance as Karen in Love Actually, and as eccentric divination teacher Sybill Trelawney in the Harry Potter movies.


Emily Watson plays Regan

Emily Watson plays Regan in King Lear

Who is Regan? King Lear’s second daughter. She, too, assures him of her deep love and affection, and is given her portion of his kingdom – but ultimately joins forces with Goneril against their father.

What else has Emily Watson been in? Emily Watson actually began her career on stage, with productions including Twelfth Night and Uncle Vanya. Recently we’ve seen her as Marmee March in Little Women, Elsa Einstein in Genius, and Yvonne Carmichael in Apple Tree Yard. Film projects include On Chesil Beach, Testament of Youth, and The Theory of Everything.


Florence Pugh plays Cordelia

Florence Pugh plays Cordelia in King Lear

Who is Cordelia? Lear’s youngest daughter. She is the only one of Lear’s three children to genuinely love him, but when she refuses his demands for flattery, he casts her aside and disowns her. She is virtuous and forgiving despite her father’s cruelty and her sisters’ actions.

What else has Florence Pugh been in? The young actress has appeared in The Commuter, The Falling, Lady Macbeth, and Marcella. She’ll soon appear in John Le Carré drama The Little Drummer Girl.


Jim Carter plays the Earl of Kent

Jim Carter plays the Earl of Kent in King Lear

Who is the Earl of Kent? King Lear’s loyal friend and supporter. He speaks up in defence of Cordelia and is banished, but instead of resenting Lear, he instead disguises himself as “Caius” (by shaving his hair and moustache off, apparently) in an effort to stay close to his king.

What else has Jim Carter been in? Jim Carter is, of course, Mr Carson from Downton Abbey. He is also known for his roles in The Madness of King George, Shakespeare in Love, The Golden Compass, The Singing Detective, and Cranford. Jim Carter is married to Imelda Staunton.


Jim Broadbent plays the Earl of Gloucester

Jim Broadbent plays the Earl of Gloucester

Who plays the Earl of Gloucester? In Shakespeare’s play he is one of Lear’s cohort and a loyal friend, but in this adaptation he becomes the Prime Minister of a fictional modern Britain. Gloucester is a foolish old man who is manipulated by his youngest, illegitimate son and, like Lear, misjudges which child to trust.

What else has Jim Broadbent been in? What hasn’t Jim Broadbent been in? He has won a Bafta for his role in Moulin Rouge and an Oscar for his part in Iris, but Harry Potter fans will remember him best as Professor Horace Slughorn, while to Game of Thrones viewers he is Archmaester Ebrose. Other credits include Paddington, War & Peace, The Sense of an Ending, and the Bridget Jones films.


Andrew Scott plays Edgar

Andrew Scott plays Edgar in King Lear

Who is Edgar? The Earl of Gloucester’s son, and only legitimate heir. In this adaptation he is a scientist. Edgar loves his father deeply and trusts his little brother Edmund implicitly, but is betrayed and comes under suspicion – forcing him to flee from his father and survive on his wits.

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What else has Andrew Scott been in? The actor’s most famous TV role is as Jim Moriarty in detective series Sherlock, but he has also appeared in Pride, Spectre and The Hollow Crown. On stage he has won critical acclaim as the star of Shakespeare play Hamlet, earning an Olivier Award nomination.