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on October 8, 2010
I just finished watching Rupert Goold's film of Macbeth, starring Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood. As mentioned in the last post, I saw this production on Broadway and was eagerly awaiting the film version. Now I've seen a lot of great film Macbeths, including the Ian McKellen/Judi Dench version, the RSC film with Antony Sher, and Roman Polanski's. This film is the best Macbeth that you will ever see. In fact, scenes that I didn't find very effective on stage (Lady Macbeth's mad scene and and the long scene between Malcolm and Macduff) were very powerful in the movie. Patrick Stewart's performance is definitive. You can see every thought that passes through his mind. Kate Fleetwood's Lady Macbeth charted her fall into insanity with such clarity that when Macbeth is told that she has died, it's no surprise to him or the audience. You see that there was no other end to her story. The Weird Sisters, here played as Nurses who have gone over to the dark side, are truly frightening. There is no weak link in this cast, the directing is thrillingly original, and the production design is stunning. It easily could have been shown in movie theaters. This Macbeth is set during the Cold War of the 1950's, and doesn't shy away from the shocking violence of a dictatorship. Characters are brutally executed, and the murder of Lady Macduff and her children is greatly disturbing, even though you see almost nothing happen. And to top it all off, Rupert Goold has the film end with the camera panning from location to location throughout the castle (the dining room, the kitchen, the Weird Sisters' morgue) and then closes with a shot of Macbeth and his Lady in the elevator, hand in hand. So we end with the idea that Macbeth's castle isn't just drenched in blood. Now it's haunted.
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on October 11, 2010
This is the best version of this play you will ever see. Patrick Stewart has grabbed the crown. I have seen Macbeth numerous times and because I know it by heart I expected little in the way of anything new. I was wrong. This version is outright spooky, scary, and unsettling. There are shocking touches such as one of the witches pulling out a war wounded soldier's heart. You may never trust a "night nurse" again. The unbelievable intensity of Lady Macbeth will screw you to your seat and give you nightmares. Her sleepwalking moments will take your breath away and make you squirm. New, fresh, dynamic and awesome. I was wondering how this production would pull off the "porter" scene. It was raw and disgusting - just the right touch for this adaptation. No comic relief here, unless you are a psycho. All of the other Machbeth's may go home now. You are no longer needed.
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on October 8, 2010
Shakespeare Most Amazing...

Firstly, let's understand something: this is cinema art--a motion picture, not a filmed stage performance. Therefore the director (Rupert Goold), cinematographer, set designers et alii are enabled to make brilliant choices concerning the visuals, sound, lighting, and other stunning effects.

There have been many wonderful film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays (since Olivier's 1948 Hamlet).
Personal favourites include Olivier's 1955 Richard III, Olivier's 1965 Othello, Peter Hall's 1968 A Midsummer Night's Dream, Polanski's 1971 Macbeth, Branagh's 1989 Henry V, Greenaway's 1991 Prospero's Books [The Tempest], Richard Loncraine's 1995 Richard III, Branagh's 1996 Hamlet, Julie Taymor's 1999 Titus [Titus Andronicus], Michael Radford's 2004 Merchant of Venice, and Gregory Doran's 2009 Hamlet.

Here Rupert Goold's Macbeth is the summum bonum of all its predecessors.

Goold has taken all the best ideas from the aforementioned film adaptations, added all the latest technical innovations, combined the most brilliant original ideas, and synthesized all into a visually stunning and dramatically devastating presentation of Shakespeare's poetry: it is simply an unnatural wonder of song and Schein (as Wilde and Nietzsche would each term it).

The acting and elocution are fabulous: Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood deserve all theatrical appreciation.

Moreover, the execution of the tragedy is utterly remarkable: Goold and company employ concepts of 1930's totalitarianism and militarism (cf. Loncraine's Richard III) with Greenaway's grotesque details (cf. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover) and the creepiness of Alan Parker's Angel Heart, together with the suffocating CCTV effects of Doran's Hamlet and Branagh's Sleuth, and the gritty combat scenarios of Zak Snyder's 300, plus the bunker atmosphere of Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall, resulting in an incomparable presentation and setting for Shakespeare's logos.

(The only thing we're missing is Greenaway's extravagant nudity...)

Oh--and let us not forget the c r a z y twisted Weird Sisters: must be seen to be believed!

Richard III
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Henry V
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
Angel Heart
EDIT Nov. 2010: Julie Taymor has just issued a new film version of The Tempest: The Tempest;
see too Ralph Finnes's Coriolanus.

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on October 10, 2010
I have seen both live and filmed versions of Macbeth over the years, but none made a greater impression than this version that I caught on PBS on Wednesday, October 6. I was going to watch the first hour of Macbeth--a story I knew well--and then turn to another program, but I couldn't turn the channel because I had been ineluctably drawn into the drama and era. The play is set in late 1930s or early 1940s fascist Europe. Scotland is a fascist country similar to Italy and Germany of the time, and is at war with democratic England. Film clips of fascist Italy and communist Soviet Union are used to portray the armies of Scotland. As happens in fascism and militarism, affairs between leaders are often settled by murder and assassination in particularly brutal ways. The setting is similar to the 1995 version of Richard III staring Ian McKellen that was so effective with the late 1930s militaristic uniforms, automobiles, and settings.

To say this Macbeth is excellently acted is an understatement: the acting and elocution are terrific, that of Patrick Stewart as Macbeth and every single other character. Every word is completely discernible. The costumes, scenery, and staging are also spectacular. For three hours I watched with complete attention and fascination--I literally could not turn away from the drama on the screen. After Macbeth has decided to go over to the dark side at his wife's urging, the staging has frequent moments of impending menace and dread, such as when he matter-of-factually prepares ham sandwiches while he instructs his assassins about how to murder Banquo and his son. Others include the impending murder of Macduff's wife and children, Lady Macbeth's horrifying visions during her sleepwalking scene, the hilarious and disturbing impromptu dance to a Russian folk song that the guests use to unsuccessfully alleviate the dread and tension during the banquet scene, and the three weird sisters portrayed as preternatural witches in the guise of malevolent military nurses.

The entirety of the staging, scenery, and direction is completely thought out to make this an inspired, effective, and completely engrossing drama. The terror in Macbeth becomes palpable and some of the images will remain with you. I will certainly buy the DVD when it becomes available and I encourage readers to do so also. This will surely become the standard Macbeth on DVD.
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on November 26, 2010
I can add little to the insightful comments of the previous reviewers of the PBS Great Performances production of Macbeth. I was enthralled by the stage production in NYC, and was excited to watch this filmed version on PBS. I eagerly await the DVD as a somewhat belated Christmas present.

This is, quite simply, the best production of "the Scottish play" that I have ever seen. Rupert Goolds's direction is flawless, transforming his brilliant stage production into an equally brilliant film production. Patrick Stewart's Macbeth and Kate Fleetwood's Lady Macbeth are pitch perfect. Look for Stewart's unique interpretation and delivery of the "Tomorrow" speech, courtesy of a suggestion by Sir Ian McKellen. Sir Patrick is a true titan of the theatre, a worthy successor to Olivier and Gielgud, two giants of the stage.

For anyone who loves Shakespeare, and especially Macbeth, this DVD is a must-have. You will never see an equal to this riveting production.
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on March 5, 2015
This production just isn't my taste, so I won't even pretend to be unbiased. The cinematography and direction are of the Spartacus/300 type--"artsy" stylization that accompanies a lot of shaky camera work, jump cuts, and histrionic performances (even for a stage play).

One of the great things about Shakespeare's writing, which we have learned from so many differing interpretations like this one, is that at the center of everything is great insights into the nature of humanity, and that can be a tremendous scaffolding onto which all sorts of dressings can be hung. But one aspect of Shakespeare that is precious to me, which makes his plays more than just great human dramas, is that he so often involves the supernatural--ghosts, as we see here, in Hamlet, etc.--and in the case of Macbeth, the famous "weird sisters," who, as written, exist unquestionably (as they are seen by multiple characters at once, unlike ghosts who typically only haunt an individual and therefore can be interpreted as psychological manifestations) in both the real world and the supernatural, since they make predictions that come true and have insight into characters' identities without knowing them. The witches are integral to 'Macbeth,' and given how real they are to the story, Lady Macbeth's pleas to and divination of the dark powers of hell take on a fantastical element, as well. Given that, I *need* to see the witches/weyward sisters as what they are...certainly not as gruesome emergency room nurses, as we see them in the opening of this production. This is a story set in a specific time and setting, when and where people's lives were integrated with natural and "unnatural" or evil world forces--they saw the world this way, and so the world was this way for them. The heavy-handed treatment of Macbeth as some sort of World War II parallel just bothers me. I am pretty open to Shakespearean interpretations, but this one definitely is not my taste, and I think some of the choices the producers/director made here detract in a serious way from the power of the source material. If I am imposing my opinions on others, which I am by virtue of writing this, I'd say that this might be an interesting interpretation for people who already know Macbeth very well and are either bored with traditional takes or who are maybe turned on by new interpretations in general, but for people who don't know the play, this treatment is missing a lot. Of course, some people are simply turned off by the supernatural, but some stories require it--Game of Thrones and the Harry Potter series, and even the Bible, offer great narratives, but they lose all their power without the fantastical elements that raise the stakes beyond everyday experience. The same is true of this. Macbeth is of a time and place, and in that time and place, the supernatural was undeniable, and so it should be played out that way. In my opinion. :)
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VINE VOICEon March 13, 2011
From the first moments of this inspired re-imagining of Shakespeare the viewer is gripped by the creepiness of the tale. I can't help thinking Shakespeare would approve and applaud this interpretation. It is very disturbing and at times you'd think you were watching something like Saw. The witches were especially creepy, and were utilized in scenes where they'd normally not be included. My only complaint is that it should've included the Paula Zahn interview that was available at the Great Performances website. Patrick Stewart remarks on how scary his co-star was, and she was nearly a vampire in this. It remains true to the original text, and is not simply using the story as in many modern adaptations. Everyone in the cast is excellent, though I had trouble understanding the insolence of the porter. I suspect this MacBeth is not for everyone.
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on January 28, 2011
Days after watching Patrick Stewart play the lead in this newly released Macbeth on DVD, and I can't get the adaptation out of my head.

While remaining mostly true to the Bard's language, everything else about this brilliantly re-imagined version of the Scottish Play is brand new. Director Rupert Goold drags the tragedy out of the distant past and into some cryptic, World War II-era hospital netherworld, with the Wyrd Sisters serving as nurses who are as likely to kill their patients as save them. (More likely, actually.)

Stewart is brilliant as Macbeth, and Kate Fleetwood seductively evil as his "fiend-like queen." Half the fun is watching how the familiar parts of the play -- the dagger of the mind, the witches' cauldron scenes, the forest coming to Dunsinane -- are given a fresh coat of paint. Despite being Shakespeare's shortest tragedy, this lasts 180 minutes, the runtime bloated with shocking imagery and avant garde camera angles. Nevertheless, the lines themselves are perfectly clear, and when things get too gory, all one needs to do is close the eyes to experience the grandeur of Shakespeare's language.

A few caveats: The Porter, the only piece of comic relief in the original, is here made cutting edge and dangerous. Following a scene where he urinates in a sink (which Macbeth later uses to wash his hands) and mimics sodomizing a little girl, he pops up like Rambo in the closing scenes, fighting alongside Stewart with a belt of bullets slung over his shoulder. The climax itself is too action-movie like for my tastes, although the shot of Lord and Lady Macbeth descending to hitherto unreachable depths of their underworld home via elevator is the perfect closing scene. Call it a suitable coda to this dark exploration of ambition unchecked by morality.

The DVD has no extras, but purchase does support the Public Broadcasting Service, always a plus.
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Patrick Stewart is one of the few great Shakespearean actors alive today -- you could give this guy any role, and he would enthrall you. So he seems like an obvious choice for the title role of Shakespeare's legendary play "Macbeth." This 2010 adaptation is a dark, industrial, grimy affair, with plenty of blood and eerie effects.

Shortly after a victory in battle, Macbeth (Stewart) and his friend Banquo (Martin Turner) are traveling home across a heath when they encounter three witches dresses as nurses. They greet him with "All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor! All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be king hereafter!"

When MacBeth is made Thane of Cawdor, he naturally begins to think that being king might be next in line. And when King Duncan (Paul Shelley) visits his castle, Lady MacBeth (Suzanne Burden) goads her husband into murdering the king and framing a couple of innocent servants for the deed. As the witches predicted, MacBeth becomes king of Scotland.

But the witches also prophesied that Banquo would be the father of kings, so MacBeth starts tying off loose ends by hiring assassins to kill Banquo and his young son, as well as a wily thane named MacDuff and all of his family. But though MacBeth believes himself to be safe from everyone, his fear begins to grow as madness and guilt torment him and his wife.

One of the most fascinating things about "Macbeth" is how evil it is -- mass murder, insanity, bloody ghosts, a trio of manipulative witches, and a weak man who becomes a raving murderous paranoiac. First-time director Rupert Goold seizes on all the blood, darkness and horror of the story, and splashes it all over this adaptation.

Seriously. This is VERY gory and violent: severed heads, ripped-out hearts, and dead bodies all over the place. The only place where Goold holds back is when Macduff's children are killed -- instead he conveys their deaths in a chilling but less graphic way.

The setting is very effective as well -- lots of industrial grime, shadowy rooms, and vast echoing halls with blasts of pale light. Additionally, there are some incredibly weird moments that make the story even more eerie, such as the three witches jerking and spasming through a room filled with dead bodies, or Banquo walking silently over MacBeth's table.

Goold's one drawback is that sometimes the actors get kind of... over-the-top. But Stewart is an absolute joy to play -- he gives a beautifully understated performance that taps into all Macbeth's weakness, greed, fear and madness. Just look at the odd scene where everybody starts dancing -- Stewart's energetic jumps are tinged with desperation, like he's frantically trying to look cheerful.

Burden makes an excellent Lady M., although she seems a bit young for Stewart -- her stark white face and grasping hands make her really look the part, and she has a jittery, hungry energy. and there are solid performances by Michael Feast, Scott Handy, and those women who play the witches.

Patrick Stewart is the heart of 2010's "Macbeth," but this adaptation also has lots of chilling, nightmarish freakiness all on its own. Just don't watch it around small children.
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on March 27, 2012
If I wanted to introduce a neophyte to Shakespeare or better yet, to someone who is congenitally convinced that Shakespeare is unapproachable or not worthy of his/her time, I would sit them down for an entire rainy afternoon (so they wouldn't be distracted by the sun or noise outside) and have them watch McKellan's "Richard III" Richard III, Branagh's "Henry V" Henry V, and finally (as it begins to get darker and more sinister outside), Sir Patrick's 12 century horror story "Macbeth." In my opinion both "Richard III" and "Macbeth" work exceedingly well set in modern times, in a totalitarian kingdom quite like Stalin's Soviet Union. And "Henry V" is a young man's story of war that Branagh so aptly demonstrates in his film. Now, with my fledgling duly impressed from their inculcation to Shakespease, and their appetities whetted for more, then the next eveing we would sit down (perhaps over the next two evenings) and watch Branaghs's magnificent "Hamlet" William Shakespeare's Hamlet (Two-Disc Special Edition). Now on to actually reading the plays!
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