Sunday, 8 November 2015



60. MACBETH (2015, dir. Justin Kurzel)


Years ago, while studying for my degree, we were given an exercise. Taking an existing piece of film script, we were to change the setting, film it on a video camera, edit it together, and show it to the rest of the group. I had an idea that made me an actor in it too, although that wasn't my intention. From the first (or fourth) "Star Wars" film, I suggested the scene where Luke Skywalker is  training to use a lightsaber to hit a hovering ball - the change was to have me, a left-handed person, attempt to open a tin of baked beans using a right-handed tin opener, which I can now do rather more easily than it looked on screen.

This is what performances of Shakespeare plays are now expected to be - the setting has to be changed in order to make it more relevant to the audience of today. This is not a bad thing to do - I have yet to see Ralph Fiennes' 2011 film of "Coriolanus," played against the 1990s conflict in the former Yugoslavia, but I imagine changing from the original setting of ancient Rome will explain the story more readily to a modern audience.

Then again, why could the latest film adaptation of "MacBeth," starring Michael Fassbender, be more easily set in medieval Scotland than the 2006 version, with Sam Worthington, be set amongst the gangs of present-day Melbourne, or Patrick Stewart's 2010 BBC Four version be set in Stalinist Russia?

Because it looks like "Game of Thrones." It's not a bad thing, but it helps when popular fantasy works in favour of a four-hundred year-old play.

In fact, it probably works a bit too well. Watching Fassbender caked in blood and mud at regular intervals, having hacked and slashed through an army in the middle of the cold, stark landscape of the Highlands, almost works against anyone having the "divine right" of a king, let alone living long enough to become one. However, it helps the plot to kill King Duncan look like more like a chance at survival, rather than grasping for more power. MacBeth will then go mad in comparatively cosy surroundings, before returning to consciousness to be killed in the mud, so the cycle of power can begin again.

In this respect, the setting helped offset the more troubling aspect of this version of "MacBeth," in my not being able to follow the dialogue. I should have brought a copy of the play to follow, in order to know what the actors were saying, made worse in some places where dialogue was mumbled. Soliloquies also had a habit of becoming static shots of people speaking, or becoming voiceovers against action, trying not to turn back into a play. 

I left the screening thinking this - you can use whatever setting you want, but either use modern English, as Shakespeare did when he was writing, or speak more clearly.

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