Number five in a series of six.
MACBETH – PBS movie - 2010 - directed by Rupert Goold - writer, William Shakespeare 1623 - the players are:
Macbeth (King's General, Thane of Glamis & Cawdor) - Patrick Stewart -- Lady Macbeth - Kate Fleetwood -- Banquo (General and Thane of Lochaber) - Martin Turner --
Fleance (son of Banquo - boy singer) - Bertie Gilbert -- King Duncan - Paul Shelley --
Malcolm (King Duncan's oldest son - Prince of Cumberland) - Scott Handy -- Donalbain (youngest son) beard/limp Ben Carpenter --
Macduff - (Thane of Fife -) - Michael Feast -- Ross (Macbeth's cousin, Thane of Ross) - Tim Treloar -- Servant –
Goold opens his movie with original WWII film scenes of men and guns in a montage of cuts, some as short as 5 frames. He includes shots of a hospital, nurses (witches),
Stewart (Macbeth) and Turner (Banquo) in modern battle dress. This is not your grandfather’s Macbeth!
After the beginning montage… ending with a bloody hand hanging from a gurney pushed down the hospital corridor, Goold skips the traditional opening with the witches and starts his dialogue with Act 1, Scene 2 – Duncan: “What bloody man is that?”
Goold has taken Shakespeare’s dialog from its 1056 Scottish speakers and put it into the mouths of 1940s Russian leaders.
He has resurrected King Duncan in the body of Joseph Stalin, creating a brilliant adaptation.
The drama of Macbeth’s strengths, weaknesses, ambitions, and his descent into failure is a universal story. The plot has been transposed to the daily work place and to the highest levels of government. Our current (2017) government is an excellent example… a man may have the skills to succeed in his climb to the top, but fail to rule because those same skills do not apply.
This is the sixth adaptation I've reviewed and the first to take place in a totally different century while adhering to the original dialogue. As a writer adapting Shakespeare, if you do not use the original text of the play, it’s just another story about a person who rises above his capabilities and his fall from grace…. a common tale. Using the original dialogue is the attractive challenge of “Macbeth”, and it justifies the use of the title.
However…. this places the burden of believability directly upon the shoulders of the actors.
Goold has assembled a cast that is more than capable of convincing the audience of its credibleness; from the wounded warrior praised by Stalin, to the riveting performances by our leading players, Fleetwood and Stewart. I expected Stewart to deliver, as he did, but not being at all familiar with Fleetwood (an oversight that I plan to correct), I was stunned.
In the kitchen scene, when she senses some hesitancy from her husband to proceed with the King’s murder, her performance is absolutely hair-raising. There can’t be a soul in the audience who isn’t chilled to the bone when she commands him to “… screw your courage to the sticking place.”
Goold has resurrected the witches in the form of attending nurses and embodies them with evil intent. Most of the interiors are underground passageways with peeling paint and moldy walls. Stalin (King Duncan) addresses the wounded soldier… and leaves him to his fate at the hands of the nurses (witches). One of the witches administers what appears to be the fatal needle…. he spasms and his heart monitor registers a continuous tone. “When shall we three meet again?”
The witch reaches into the soldier’s chest and rips out his heart… holding it for them to examine. “…. fair is foul and foul is fair.”
Goold is not above manipulating Shakespeare’s order and breaks up the long soliloquies giving some of the lines to other players. In Act 2, Scene 3 when Stalin’s murder is discovered, Lennox’s entry is delayed and some of his lines are shared by Lady Macduff and her children. It worked seamlessly.
Act 2, Scene3; Goold (as did Kurzel) couldn’t resist adding his on-camera version of Banquo’s murder and Fleance’s escape.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth see them off to their fate.
However in his 1940s version the action takes place aboard a passenger train.
After Banquo is murdered, his ghost arises and stalks toward the camera..... accompanied by Gregorian chants.... very effective.
The Macbeths are now resigned to their destiny, and holding hands, they step into the elevator, which Goold uses as a transitional device. They are trapped by events that propel them downward to the state dinner, their waiting guests, and their fate.
Goold creates a montage here to compress linear time and to give viewers the
sensation that two or more events are happening
simultaneously. The Macbeths are entertaining their guests and are served by the three Witches who have been reprised as kitchen help.
In a spell-binding scene Macbeth is confronted by Banquo’s ghost who’s bloody image marches down the center of the table and points a accusatory finger.
In 1056 the people of Scotland put their faith equally in both the world of spirits and Christianity. Goold imbues the witches with evil, supernatural power enhancing their influence on Shakespeare's plot.
Macbeth seeks his future in the witches’ prophecies. In a display of creative histrionics, Goold stages a chilling witches pantomime as they dance and chant in rap
cadence around the bodies of three cadavers on hospital gurneys…. “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.” Macbeth finds himself engulfed in their mysticism and his greatest fears well up before his eyes.
All the murders and attempts to attain his desires are now washing over him in waves of retribution. The Witches’ prophecy will become real... Banquo’s sons shall rule in a long line of kingships. He has gambled his fortune and sacrificed his fate in a futile effort to gain what was beyond his reach.
Buoyed on the false hope he hears in the Witches’ chants he continues down his murderous path and, with his henchmen, proceeds to murder the Macduff family.
When Shakespeare was writing – the late 1500s – modern English was only about 100 years old; most writing was in Latin and there were no dictionaries. Consequently he is given credit for contributing over 3000 words to the English language – 1700 of them were used for the first time.
Regardless of his brilliance, Shakespeare was a working writer with a wife and three children who had to make a living. As do the writers of your favorite TV series, he was sometimes guilty of engaging his characters in very illogical actions.
For example, Macduff knows that Macbeth did not hesitate to kill his best friend Banquo, simply because he thought he might betray him. So, logically, Macduff
should assume that Macbeth wouldn’t hesitate to kill his family if he left them and ran off to join Malcolm and the English forces. Yet, in Act 4, Scene 4 Macduff seems surprised that Macbeth did exactly that. “Did you say all?”
Apparently, Shakespeare felt Macduff needed something to make him seek revenge and to destroy Macbeth. Malcolm challenges him: “Dispute it like a man.” Scott Handy is a very credible Malcolm but it’s a strange line for Malcolm to utter, a man who’s never seen battle. Although, I must say, he was far more effective than Roddy MacDowell in Orson Welles’ version.
At the beginning of Act 5, Scene 1, Kate Fleetwood
has a 4 minute scene which must have tested the limits of her physical endurance. “The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now? What, will these hands ne'er be clean?"
She delivers an extraordinary portrayal of a woman who has finally come to recognize that her actions, her lack of moral limits, and her greed have led to her painful defeat.
The Witches advance up the hospital corridor toward the body of Lady Macbeth lying on the gurney, to confront Macbeth;
“Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow,
a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
The Witches’ prophecies, and their promises have come to their inevitable dark conclusion. His confidence in their predictions spurred his desire and led him to act under their imagined seal of protection. He abandoned rational thought, and goaded by Lady Macbeth’s lust for power, his destruction was assured.
As each prediction came to pass, and Birnam Woods advanced upon Dunsinane, he at last,
was forced to confront Macduff…. a man not of woman born.
Hail, king! for so thou art: behold, where stands the usurper's cursed head: the time is free: I see thee compass'd with thy kingdom's pearl, that speak my salutation in their minds; whose voices I desire aloud with mine: Hail, King of Scotland!
Additional Cast members:
Oliver Burch -- First Witch – Sophie Hunter -- Second Witch – also Gentlewoman - Polly Frame -- Third Witch – Niamh McGrady -- Sergeant - also 1st Murderer & Doctor - David Howey -- Porter - also Old Man -- Christopher Patrick Nolan -- Thane of Cawdor - Vic Abbott -- Lenox (Thane) - Mark Rawlings -- Angus (Thane) - Bill Nash