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4.3 out of 5 stars
Great Performances: Macbeth
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26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2011
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This review does not principally address Shakespeare's play, nor the acting in this version, which is generally excellent, within its constraints. I am addressing the production's most obvious feature: it's relocation in time, and it's staging.

We are in the 20th Century here. This is no defect. The actual era of Macbeth is extremely misty--it is quite certainly not Elizabethan. A tale of maddened ambition, bloody tyranny, a state defiled is certainly at home in the dungeon-century we have just crawled out of (and into what, one might ask?). The opening scene (on a battlefield) seems first to be World War I--perhaps in Serbia or some such place. Later, the Second War comes to seem more likely.

The opening setting is some kind of field hospital within a large fortification (subterranean largely, elevators--the Maginot line?). The "Bloody Man,"--the injured Scottish messenger--is interviewed by senior officers (I am assuming some familiarity with the play) while being given blood, attention to an abdominal wound, evidently severe, etc. This is highly convincing. It is therefore chilling to discern that the nurses are the Three Witches on their first appearance. What is more fearsome than an evil nurse? Left alone with him, the witches appear to kill him for his heart. Good lord! This production is off and running.

But Macbeth is a dangerous place. Theatre people fear the play. It is just where to meet a hobgoblin. And hobgoblins, with the face of Consistency, are known to haunt small minds. Having gotten into this odd structure, our production can't get out. The entire play (with a couple of exceptions to be noted) takes place in a white-tiled, but dirty, institutional kitchen, or possibly latrine, or possibly both. Underground.

King Duncan lives in it. The Macbeths live in it (forcing Duncan, arriving at their "castle" to exclaim, "This castle hath a pleasant seat..." while apparently in the Subway). The exigences of latrine life take their toll on court etiquette: Lady Macbeth, Countess of Cawdor, is shown wiping down her own kitchen and dishing up fowls for the King as though she were Blondie Bumstead (admittedly, her kitchen help consists exclusively of the Three Witches, who never go away).

I promised some excursions from the latrine. We are, of course, in Scotland under a tyranny. Quite a number of the personae take refuge off and on in England. They are able to travel between the two capitols by a convenient steam express, presumably the old Flying Scotsman. Banquo and his son are assaulted in their flight--Banquo is murdered, of course, his boy escapes--by the railroad tea-service staff, who have become Macbeth's tame thugs--a chilling detail for those brought up in terror of British Railways tea. There is a good scene with snarling police dogs and goose-stepping troops in the background outside a comparatively normal residence that Macbeth once uses. (It is gracious of the production to make the 20th Century monster Macbeth is turning into Stalin and not the ever-popular Hitler.)

Tragedy cannot endure bathos. Bathos is what is going on here as Lady Macbeth seems to look for the Saran-Wrap in her inconvenient kitchen, in the tea-service murders, in the inability of anyone to go anywhere except in a giant elevator, in Banquo's corpse laboriously getting up in the train carriage (has it stopped?) and plodding off, like Bela Lugosi, to appear at Macbeth's dinner (where the waitresses will be...the witches).

If the other aspects of the production were silly as all this, the enterprise would simply not matter. But there is much here that is good, even very good. Macbeth as...Robert Mugabe, Pol Pot, the ghastly Ghaddafi, Stalin?...is a perfectly valid idea (though he proves much easier to get rid of than they--Shakespeare didn't know everything we do). Macbeth himself (perhaps he has read Tony Tanner's magisterial "Prefaces to Shakespeare") marvelously projects his character's strangely clear sight (Macbeth always sees the full moral consequence of what he is about to do), and his hideous compulsion (he always does it anyway). Lady Macbeth's slow unraveling after her carnivorous beginning is perfectly managed (does she lack her husband's terrible vision and does not see how deep a pit she is digging them, or does she unravel in step with her husband--though quite differently, there is male and female here--or both?). The Thane of Fife's remorse at going to England and leaving his wife and small children to be killed by the monster (his action is inexplicable, but that's Shakespeare, not this production), and his implacable hunger for revenge afterwards (maybe Shakespeare's intention) is heartbreaking. This could be a valuable Macbeth.

But couldn't we please get out of the kitchen a little? Or is it the latrine? My three stars are given to the acting and by some of the concept (which, if not marred, would have deserved more). The staging deserves a great deal less.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2011
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I was lucky enough to get the chance to watch this Macbeth live onstage in New York a few years ago. (My favorite starship captain in my favorite Shakespeare play? I had to go!) It was an absolutely amazing experience, and not just because of Patrick Stewart. All the performances were great and I loved the creative stage design (the elevator!), the Stalinesque aesthetic, etc. So when I heard that there would be a film version released on DVD, I was thrilled.

But even having seen and loved the live version didn't quite prepare me for this video. I was blown away. As with the DVD version of Hamlet starring David Tennant, they spruced it up with gorgeous sets and locations and nifty editing to make it more "cinematic" and not just a filmed stageplay. The performances are as great as ever (and some of them I was perhaps able to appreciate better than I did from the upper balcony of the theater). Sir Patrick's transition from decent but ambitious guy to ruthless dictator was so natural you never quite lose sympathy for him. Kate Fleetwood's Lady M is almost gleefully wicked but shows her conscience in subtle ways; she and Macbeth have great chemistry. But I think my favorite might actually be the incredibly creepy Weird Sisters. I get chills from their first entrance and all their scenes.

DVD-wise, this is an extremely bare-bones release, with no extras of any kind. I would have loved a director/actor commentary track. Still, the film on its own is definitely worth the price of purchase.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2011
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
We had seen this play live on Broadway and were blown away by Stewart's interpretation of MacBeth. We had to have the video. There were a couple of scenes where I preferred the stage version to the video production ("tomorrow and tomorrow"), but this is still fantastic and if I could give it 10 stars, I would. I don't want to spoil this for anyone, but the way Stewart interprets the final fight with MacDuff -- "Lay on MacDuff, and damned be he that first cries hold" -- and then as the fight nears its end, yells -- "Enough!" Well, it was the first time that scene made any sense to me. (Again, I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but you'll see what I mean).

If you like the play, you will love this version.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2010
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I saw Ashland's Oregon MacBeth a few years ago and it was brilliant. A wonderful stage production. I've seen MacBeth live a few more times as well (including seeing it at Ashland some 28 years ago).

HOWEVER, I have never seen any video/movie/tv version of a Shakespeare play that so well captures the true play. Henry V via Kenneth Branagh is the only thing that I can say is comparable in scope and scale.

After seeing Patrick Stewart's MacBeth on PBS a few weeks ago, I appreciate the play better than any other time I have seen it in my 51 years on this globe.

John Gregory
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2012
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2011
Format: DVD
One of the best versions of Macbeth I have ever seen! Patrick Stewart does a phenomenal job as Macbeth, with a Stalin-era Soviet Union interpretation of the story. The dinner party when Macbeth hears the ghost is particularly reminiscent, as well as the scene between Macbeth and his wife when they are preparing for the dinner.

I especially love the effect of the scene where Macbeth hires the assassins while making and then eating a sandwich! The flippancy and casualness that the character makes by doing something so mundane as making a sandwich while conducting such gruesome business as killing people is frightful!

Must see!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2015
Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2012
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This is truly a very, very good production of Macbeth. The witches are just terrific and Patrick Stewart's performance is spot on.

But then there is Lady Macbeth. The first time I came to this dark play the character of Lady Macbeth intrigued me. At that time in college, reading the play as an assignment, I had affixed in my minds-eye this particular character. I have seen a couple of productions and in each Lady Macbeth left me somewhat wanting. That is until I saw Kate Fleetwood in the role.

WOW! Her acting is suburb, absolutely but it is her looks that sent me over the top. She looks exactly like the character I always imagined.

The price of this DVD is worth it just to see Ms. Fleetwood.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2010
Format: DVD
Saw this on PBS and WOW- just a brilliant adaption. Stewart does not disappoint. Best thing I've seen through a TV in ten years.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Amazon Instant Video
This is the best Shakespeare performance I've ever seen. The witches are really scary, not just some prop to get the action started. The leads are incredible, and all the supporting cast bring life to their parts. The sterility of the set makes the bloody action all the more horrible. If you are going to watch only one Shakespeare part ever, I think you should pick this one.
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