A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Macbeth (1978)

September 11, 2010

Macbeth (1978)

I went through a very brief phase a few years back where I made it my plan to purchase every Shakespearean adaptation I could find. Of course there are teeming hundreds of adaptations of all levels of quality, so this ambition did not last long, but I did end up buying quite a few nice adaptations while this passion was upon me. Amongst these was this BBC production of the Royal Shakespeare Company performing Macbeth in 1978.

It has been about twenty two years since I last read or saw this play. As such it’s a fresh adventure for me watching it now. Oh, sure, I remember the “Is this a dagger which I see before me” speech and “Who would have thought the old man had so much blood in him.” I remember the witches and their prophesies. But the tale of ambition betrayal murder and madness was dim in my memory ‘ere we watched this tonight.

It is the madness that fascinates me most tonight. This rendition of the play is something I have not seen before. Amanda says it is a “black box.” There is no scenery, no sets, hardly any props. Much is conveyed by clever lighting which sets the scene, but behind the performers is just pure velvet blackness. There are only the actors, the performances and the words. The words of course are legendary. I’ve seen a fair share of Shakespeare by now, and I know that of the tragedies people rank Hamlet king, but I actually like this play better. It’s a more straight forward play with simpler set of motivations. Hamlet is a grand melodrama, but Macbeth is a tale of a descent into madness that is far more direct. It doesn’t feel all padded out with ancillary characters, players, plots, poisons and such. It’s just madness, murder and vengeance.

So to the actors and the performances. The cast is full of familiar faces. We chuckled somewhat to see Ian McDiarmid, the Emperor from the Star Wars films, playing the comedic role of the porter and the dramatic role of Ross. Amanda was astonished to see Roger Rees, who is in a couple other movies in our project. The greatest weight though is given to the two leads; Ian McKellen as Macbeth and Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth. Given that the nature of the project there are no distractions to take your attention away from their powerful portrayals and they do not disappoint.

Ian McKellen is by turns powerful, vulnerable, terrified, defiant and ruthless. His Macbeth is a very fragile character, really, who is driven mad by the deeds he must do to attain and keep the position of king which he so craves. At every step you can see that he knows his actions to be wrong but he sees no alternative. It’s in the eyes here. McKellen imbues him with such terror in his every waking nightmare that you can feel sympathy for the poor mad tyrant, which is of course the whole point of the play.

Partnered with this you have Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth providing the drive and shoring up his courage when he wavers. Her sleepwalking scene concludes with an inhuman cry of such pure unimaginable pain that it literally sent shivers down my spine. I had thought that was a figure of speech. It’s a mesmerising performance by an absolute master at her trade.

This whole production is captivating and otherworldly, which works for the supernatural nature of the play. I’m so glad I got to see it, and it makes me want to get some other versions of the play to compare it to. I think tomorrow we’ll do Ian McKellen’s Richard III. I’ve seen that one before and it’s another great treat.

September 11, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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