Paul Scofield did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character in King Lear.
This adaptation of King Lear stands as Paul Scofield's only major Shakespearean role on film, he had minor roles in Branagh's Henry V and Zeffirelli's Hamlet, despite being one of the most highly regarded Shakespearean actors of all time. Well as his one major cinematic performance utilizing the bard's work it is certainly an interesting one. Now it should be no surprise to anyone whose ever seen any performance by Paul Scofield that he thrives with Shakespeare's words. Scofield frankly does this with any writers' work with his precise and so eloquent manner of speaking that helps to create that rather unique cinematic presence of his. Scofield excels in this regard as he's particularly effective in the way he manages to find the beauty in the words while still always making them grounded in a definite reality. Scofield's approach is flawless in this regard since his delivery seems effortless to the point that it is entirely natural while in no way lacking a certain style all the same. Again though this should be no surprise for one familiar with Scofield's work, however what might be more surprising is in his approach to the old King Lear.
Laurence Olivier and Ian McKellen, both great Shakespearean actors in their own right, would later play King Lear. In both of their performances they approach the role of Lear as really a kindly old man at heart, which seems to be the most common approach to the part. Scofield though completely rejects such an approach evidenced from his first scene where Lear decides on the division of his Kingdom based upon his how his daughters express their love for him. From the start of it Scofield takes even an unorthodox approach to his physical depiction of the man's age. Instead of having the grace of a nice old white haired man, Scofield instead plays it as though Lear is a man fighting against his years in a way. Scofield expresses the wear in his face yet he never shows Lear to embrace it, as there is this certain tension about it as though Lear is attempting to keep his features that of younger man. However the age cannot not be hidden, from his grey hair, to his sunken features, and his quivering lip, which is a particularly brilliant touch by Scofield, and there is a certain unease to be found by Scofield portraying Lear as a man not fully comfortable with himself.
Scofield's daring approach continues though as he makes Lear a rather harsh man from the beginning. In the opening scene as he concerns himself with his daughters' gifts, his question to each of them of how much they love him does not seem that of just a old man looking for some comfort, but rather that of ruler demanding a concise answer to resolve the current matter of his Kingdom. Scofield places an emphasis on the idea of this King with his performance. In Scofield's portrayal there is that gravitas of a proper monarch, and the forcefulness of a man who has truly made an impact on his country. Scofield projects the power of the man's personality in the scene as there seems to be a great leader and perhaps warrior in his Lear. The only problem is that this is still made something of the past by Scofield, as he shows the scorn of age in his work, as the strength of such a many has slowly left him, though he certainly tries to hold onto it. Now with this approach Scofield actually is a particularly cold Lear, especially in the opening scene of the film where he rejects his daughter Cordelia because she refuses to play his little game to claim her inheritance. Scofield makes this work incredibly well as he importantly is able to suggest that this coldness is not that of an unloving person, but rather of a strict ruler.
King Lear's choice to reject Cordelia, while rewarding his elder daughters Goneril and Regan, quickly results in a chaos of a power struggle since his others daughters were not nearly as loyal as they proclaimed. Scofield utilizes his initial setup for Lear's in a fascinating fashion as now he goes a step further than a man slowly discovering the turmoil caused by his decision, but also explores the life of the King as he tries to be a man no longer as true King. Scofield displays well this definite awkwardness in Lear as he struggles to no longer be King in a way, and plays this almost gentle curiosity as he tries to go about his day at first as a man seemingly no longer burdened by his status. There is as well though an early sense of disbelief that Scofield conveys in Lear as shows the King to be genuinely surprised by the results of his actions. This only becomes worse though when he attempts to deal with his daughters and is treated as though he was nothing. Scofield is marvelous in the moment by making this betrayal particularly painful, as the sense of his once great standing as King seems to begin to fade from the man, and he becomes just the old man that his daughters view him as.
Scofield's work is amazing as he delivers the rage in the storm truly with the force of a man of such, former, power. Scofield turns this to not only a man who seems to raging as against his daughters treatment of him but also as a man turning his anger on fate itself as he must bear witness to the loss of all that he had. Scofield is fantastic the way he portrays this madness of the moment in Lear since he does not portray it as a detached psychosis, but rather a man specifically losing his mind due to having lost control of his realm. It is not a simple anger that Scofield reveals but also a terrible sadness within it as Lear falls apart along with his Kingdom. Scofield earns the moment wholly as all the seeds of weakness, his age, his daughters, his loss of power, weigh on him in the single moment reducing him to almost nothing. Lear though seems to have a chance at redemption as he finds that his daughter Cordelia has returned, and recognizes that she was the only one who loved him all along. Scofield is heartbreaking in the moment of realization in Lear, as he finally finds some warmth in the old man as he sees what he has done. What I love about Scofield's take though is he finds an even greater impact in this, as he makes the realization of more than just one mistake. Scofield instead finds a man understanding that being lost in his position caused him to be blind to his family. Scofield utilizing all that came before in making the strongest impact,
as he loses that awkwardness as he becomes his age, and finally allows
his own love for his daughter to fully reveal itself. Scofield's is truly affecting as he portrays the final scenes of the tragedy as a man recognizing his failures, and oh so briefly appreciating what he ignored. Scofield is perfection in Lear's final agonizing moments as he somberly accepts everything he ever cared for crumble around him in surprisingly quiet yet undeniably effective way. It is a shame Scofield's cinematic Shakespearean efforts were so limited, as this is a masterful portrayal by Scofield. He not only finds a unique approach to the character but from that finds an even greater depth to the tragedy of this King.