I've talked before about my tragically inappropriate tendency to giggle when Gloucester hurls himself off the not-Cliffs of Dover. I thought it might be instructional to look at some of the many King Lear productions that have been preserved on film to see how each one's Gloucester manages it.
Did I say "instructional"? I meant "funny". Sorry.
DISCLAIMER: MANY GLOUCESTERS WERE HURT IN THE MAKING OF THIS POST, BUT NONE OF THEM WERE KILLED BECAUSE, HA HA, THEY WEREN'T STANDING ON THE EDGE OF A CLIFF AFTER ALL, HA HA HA.
Michael Hornden's Lear (1982) - Norman Rodway as Gloucester
This is a very poor showing. I'm not going to blame Mr. Rodway, who is an excellent actor and whose forward lunge (accompanied by an appropriately anguished cry of "Eeeuuuuuuurgh!") is dynamic and committed, but the director completely messes it up by staying in close on Edgar, so we don't see the entire second half of the fall. This only gets a score of 3 from me.
James Earl Jones's Lear (1974) - Paul Sorvino as Gloucester
Mr. Sorvino appears to be going for the dramatic fall/faint combination, which, to his credit, he executes very well. Unfortunately Gloucester is supposed to be throwing himself off a cliff, and I'm not getting the necessary forward momentum from this that I expect from my Gloucesters. He gets a 4.
Patrick Magee's Lear (1974) - Ronald Radd as Gloucester
Oh, now this is interesting. Most Gloucesters tend to do their falling from a static position, usually on their knees, but Mr. Radd decides to run off the edge of the cliff, which, if you ask me, seems to be the most practical way to throw one's self off a cliff. However, the problem with this, as Mr. Radd discovers, is that a running Gloucester has to eventually realize that he is not, in fact, plummeting to his death. Mr. Radd attempts to covers his tracks by turning his run into a faint, but, as I noted with Mr. Sorvino's effort above, this isn't a fainting contest. It's a falling contest. He scores a 5, with a point added for originality.
Ian McKellen's Lear (2008) - William Gaunt as Gloucester
The director's choice to stay in a close-up shot for the actual jump prevents us from getting a good look at Mr. Gaunt's overall style, but the diving-board move he does with his hands at the beginning of the jump is classy and original. He's definitely going over a cliff. I also like his little rolling maneuver at the end, so I'll give him a solid 7.
Paul Scofield's Lear (1971) - Alan Webb as Gloucester
Mr. Webb prefaces his fall with some very convincing wobbling, which I had to cut from the above GIF due to file size constraints, as he wobbles for a long time. His actual fall is very solid, and, while he twists around to avoid a face-first impact, he still hits the ground with considerable finality. I'll award him a 8.
Ian Holm's Lear (1998) - Timothy West as Gloucester
Mr. West must be praised for his commitment. He just flat out plummets onto his face, with significant velocity. That's the kind of dedication I like to see in my Gloucesters. I'm giving this one a 9, with a one point deduction for the convenient smoke screen that blocks our view of the actual impact.
Laurence Olivier's Lear (1984) - Leo McKern as Gloucester
Now that's more like it. A full-blooded, no-holds-barred face-plant onto the ground. You can't hear it in the GIF, but Mr. McKern also goes "AAAAAAAAAAAH" as he falls, which is to be commended. While I dislike the camera cut, which lessens the impact, I'm going to give this a full 10 points. Well done, Mr. McKern. You win my "Best Filmed Gloucester Fall" award!
REMEMBER, KIDS... The Gloucesters you have seen here are trained professionals. Don't try this at home.