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One fateful night in a small English regional theatre during World War II a troupe of touring actors stage a production of Shakespeares 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 Dresser is a wickedly funny and deeply moving story of friendship and loyalty as Sir reflects on his lifelong accomplishments and seeks to reconcile his turbulent friendships with those in his employ before the final curtain.

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The Dresser movie full length review - Reviving the actor

Ronald Harwood's stage play was adapted for film in 1983 and received multiple Oscar nominations and a fruity performance from Albert Finney.

Harwood's play has now been adapted for television. Harwood wanted it to be a stage revival with Anthony Hopkins but he called time on his stage career several decades ago and so we get Hopkins for the television film.

I remember soon after Laurence Olivier died, it was Hopkins who introduced a special tribute programme on the BBC. Then he was regarded as an actor who never quiet fulfilled his immense talent on the stage or screen. He had been Olivier's understudy at the National Theater. Wild living and booze got the better off him. Hopkins was not averse to do highly paid thrash like Hollywood Wives for American television. He would also do more credible British television films, usually the BBC and every now and then wow the stage in plays such as David Hare's Pravda.

Within a few years after that introduction of that tribute to Olivier, Hopkins entered his own golden era first by bagging a best actor Oscar for Silence of the Lambs. He would get three other Oscar nominations in the 1990s and got to work with directors such as Spielberg and Oliver Stone. He would be regarded as one of the best actors of his generation.

In The Dresser Hopkins returns to BBC television after some years and teams up with Ian McKellen for the first time on-screen. McKellen is the loyal, camp, alcoholic dresser to Hopkin's Sir, the domineering actor-manager (based on Sir Donald Wolfit) touring up and down the various stages of Britain during World War 2.

In his advancing years and in ill health, he is not up to playing the big roles, in this case King Lear. He needs all the help from his Dresser just to get on the stage and recite the opening lines.

Hopkins lays bare an actor who once thrilled the crowd, womanised, was adored and is self absorbed. Emily Watson plays the much maligned wife who in many ways has had enough of him, always playing second fiddle to the detriment of her own career. Then again so has the waspish McKellen and we see in the end as his anger and vindictiveness bubbles through.

Director Richard Eyre has deliberately not opened the play up too much. It is kept small and intimate. We get to see Hopkins deliver bits of King Lear as Sir gets to the stage and delivers one big final performance. Look out for Edward Fox playing an actor drafted in at the last moment to play the Fool who delivers a tender monologue when he drops by to pay his respects to Sir after the performance.