A Furious Adaption: ‘Macbeth’ (2010) Review

Posted in The Screening Room by - July 28, 2016

The tragedy of Macbeth is one of the most well-known Shakespeare plays. Quotes from it have been used and adapted to even colloquial use, and some people like to joke (or not) that the name itself is cursed. It’s a legendary play about a general who’s told by witches that he will become King one day, but to speed things up, he decides to kill everyone who he thinks will get in his way, bringing tragedy after tragedy upon him. However, this 2010 version directed by Rupert Goold foregoes the play’s original Scottish setting. Instead, it sets it in the Soviet Union, post-Stalin. Or so it would seem since it parallels Macbeth with Stalin himself. However, all this is only done visually; the text remains unchanged. The sets and costumes firmly establish the story in a different world than what was intended. What good directing does to a rich text can make for a remarkable production, the exact case for this adaptation. Patrick Stewart delivers a phenomenal performance, he disappears into the role and becomes frightening and weirdly sympathetic at the same time. Kate Fleetwood, on the other hand, gives a faithfully harrowing portrayal of the cunning Lady Macbeth. Everyone in the cast is at their absolute best, even in minor roles.

Rupert Goold’s direction succeeds not just in the rich details, but also in the minor ones. The ones that make scenes come alive and remain memorable. Having one of the characters make and feed sandwiches to his conspirators while plotting a murder just speaks value, and it’s where this presentation most succeeds. There is also an intense, unrelenting atmosphere of dread that permeates the entire play. It comes off as a horror movie above else, which makes it a wonderful way of delivering the story.

As a piece of film-making though, it does suffer a little bit. Goold’s editorial and cinematographic choices sometimes come off as haphazard. It clashes a bit too much with the elegance of the rest of his direction. Much to the point that I wonder if it made its running time of 160 minutes a bit harder swallow than it should have. It makes certain scenes appear unfocused in their intent. It’s a relatively small thing, especially since the rest so is so well done but it does take away from an otherwise excellent production. If you have never read or watched Macbeth, this wouldn’t be a bad way to introduce yourself to the play. It’s faithful to the text, and the change of setting only helps in providing an atmosphere that feels closer and more relevant to this age. Also, it has some of the best performances you will have the pleasure of seeing anywhere. Despite its technical shortcomings, it’s a compelling presentation, and it would make an excellent introduction for anyone old enough to understand Shakespeare at least a little bit.

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