This is not a kosher interpreted Shakespeare. It’s a modernized version set somewhere between the 1930s and 1950s, but with a touch of a post-apocalyptic-like Downfall (the “Hitler talks about”-movie) with modern weaponry and cars. It has fascist overtones much like Ian McKellen’s Richard III.
Dirty and bloody, acted to perfection especially by Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood, this is the most original and touching screen adaptation I've ever seen of any of the great Shakespearean tragedies.
It makes almost every other Shakespearian movie seem lame. I have never seen any version of a Shakespeare play that so well captures the true essence of the play. Maybe Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V is comparable in scope and scale, but that movie is a more traditional interpretation.
A couple of things really lift this movie. First, making Macbeth a fascist dictator is effective and absolutely makes sense. The smart setting gives it contemporary meaning. The settings are full with small interruptions that add substance and efficiency to the production. I really like the subtle (and not so subtle) Soviet baggage in the movie. Props like the Stalinist-style portrait of Macbeth, the grainy newsreel of marching soldiers, and Banquo being killed on a train, hint parallels with the events in the play without intruding on them. Almost all the action is set around a kitchen sink and a refrigerator or in a corridor. The actors frequently make their entrances by a creepy service lift with clanking metal doors. And I really liked that the witches are nurses in a field hospital, killing rather than curing the victims of battle. It’s a liberating context, far from actors in armor just delivering brilliant speeches. For example Polanski’s version of Macbeth feels very outdated in comparison.
This might upset Shakespearian traditionalists, but Macbeth is supposed to upset people. It shows life at its most brutal and cynical side, and ask life’s toughest question. This is not family entertainment.
The post-apocalyptic scenery proves that Shakespeare writes timeless. It works. And it work very well. Director Rupert Goold keeps Shakespeare’s original text, except for a few instances. Every performance is truthful and inventive.
It also proves that Shakespeare’s plays work on a small scene. This adaption is mostly a claustrophobic brilliant chamber play.
The acting and directing are first rate. Patrick Stewart is superb as Macbeth, and Kate Fleetwood is excellent as Lady Macbeth.
There are a number of ingenious scenes, like Macbeth talking to the two murderers while making a ham sandwich, or the porter delivering his speech while drinking and watch Soviet parades.
Patrick Stewart gives a performance that taps into all Macbeth’s weakness, greed, fear and madness. He can make the simple act of preparing a ham sandwich one of the scariest things you’ve ever seen. And Stewart’s Macbeth always has understood the consequences of killing. He displays an extraordinary understanding, clarity and emotional truth in the role. His Macbeth is strong and confident, but at the same time vulnerable and uncertain. You can feel his struggle and later his guilt.
The moment just before his death when he finally gets it, at the vision of the witches/nurses, is amazing. His exhausted, despairing delivery of the “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” (act 5 scene 5) speech is from a man who has reduced his universe to dust. But in his transition from a decent but ambitious guy to a ruthless dictator, you never quite lose sympathy for him. It makes the character credible; you can relate to him. Which makes his fall even larger.
Same thing with Kate Fleetwood as Lady Macbeth. Her version of The Lady is very credible and makes her not sympathetic, but more understandable as human. For instance the intensity of the sleepwalking is breathless.
Michael Feast also deserves special mention as an excellent Macduff, carrying off an amazing silence after he learns the death of his sons.
This is the best version of Macbeth you will ever see.