This filmed version of Macbeth follows on from the well-received Hamlet, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, that was also captured for posterity but given the filmic treatment rather than just recorded on stage. The entire adult cast, including Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as the murderous couple, from the original Chichester production reunited to film this in high definition in the gloomy tunnels and bunker-like rooms at Walbeck Abbey.
Director Rupert Goold relocates the action to the Cold War Era thus making war-torn Scotland something closer to Stalinist Russia:, the hallmarks of fascism are ever-present with giant posters of the ruler dominating rooms, a police state mentality prevailing with torture used to maintain fear and control over the people as the Macbeths seek to sate their bloodlust and desire for the crown through any means necessary.
I’m not too sure how I feel about Stewart as an actor, something about him just turns me off, but he is undoubtedly impressive here, demonstrating a clinical control over the verse and playing the dictator-like ambition turning to paranoid desperation with conviction. Fleetwood’s Lady Macbeth was chillingly effective as the driving force behind this blood-thirsty ambition, portraying a real malevolence that curdles inside her as the loveless marriage begins to crack.
Goold’s assignment of the weird sisters as surgical-masked nurses who are frequently seen around the edges of scenes puts a stronger emphasis on the supernatural side of things, suggesting the ominous inevitability of his fate and perhaps even manipulating it themselves. Polly Frame, Sophie Hunter and Niamh McGrady are all excellent though and the visual and sound effects employed on their performances adds an extra layer of disturbing menace.
As ever, Macduff and Malcolm’s killer scene dragged interminably, but there were nice performances from Tim Treloar as a bookish Ross, Suzanne Burden as the butchered Lady Macduff. But what shines as the biggest benefit to the whole thing is the use of close-ups to really capture the nuances of performances that could well have escaped people on the front row, never mind up in the gods. There’s a level of detail that one is allowed to observe here, that really elevates this from a mere recording of a staged production and demonstrating where this format has a clear value and shouldn’t just be dismissed as ‘no substitute for the real thing’.
Yes, this is not the same thing as going to the theatre but nor is it pretending to be and instead offers an opportunity that couldn’t really be equalled whilst sat in the stalls and made this an interesting and significant thing to watch.