Macbeth (2018) - Online Review

'As the camera swoops through rooms, snakes down staircases and soars around the exterior of this impossible environment, the film feels at its most cinematically vibrant and innovative'.

In one of the most well-known speeches from Macbeth, the title character describes life as "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". It's a line which could quite easily be lifted from the play and applied to any number of CGI-fuelled Hollywood blockbusters, but perhaps less often to screen adaptations of Shakespeare's own works. However, when considering Kit Monkman's overtly stylised version of Macbeth shot entirely on green screen, the words of the murderous protagonist could quite easily become the director's very own Banquo: haunting Monkman whilst spelling his downfall.

Thankfully, the director's aesthetic choices are for the most part a success. Monkman's version of the story unfolds in a collossal globe-like structure, assembled like a fantastical life-size doll's house made up of the settings in which the various scenes play out. As the camera swoops through rooms, snakes down staircases and soars around the exterior of this impossible environment, the film feels at its most cinematically vibrant and innovative. Architectural sketchwork is regularly worked into the picture: a pleasing and subtly executed touch, making it feel as if we're watching the story unfold in an edifice being designed and constructed before our eyes. The technical ambition on display is admirable throughout, helping the film to look unlike any version of Macbeth we've seen before.

It's when Monkman relies more on the dramatic and narrative elements of his film than the technical ones, however, that he flounders most often. Perhaps surprisingly for an adaptation clearly not set in our world, the supernatural elements of the story are remarkably reduced. Many of the witches' scenes are pared down or cut altogether, their remaining lines delivered by Mother (Wunmi Musaku) - a mysterious figure but one that Monkman is careful never to present as being distinctly magical.

Neither do we see Macbeth's "dagger of the mind" nor Banquo's ghost, both unequivocally presented here as figments of the murderous Scot's increasingly fragile mental state. Whilst this potentially makes for a more psychological rather than supernatural interpretation of Shakespeare's play, Monkman's investigation of this approach doesn't quite go far enough, leaving his version of the story feeling too rudimentary in places. Mark Rowley and Akiya Henry as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth respectively are both fine, but their scenes together - particularly those in Acts 1 and 2 - struggle to authentically create the charged, power-hungry relationship needed between the two characters.

The most intriguing element of the film is the Porter (Kes's David Bradley), transformed from Shakespearean fool to a non-speaking observer of the action, and who spends much of the film watching Mario Caserini's 1909 silent film version of Macbeth. It's a nice metacinematic touch, reminding the audience that they're watching just one of the many screen adaptations of this particular play. It's a shame therefore that Monkman does little more with the idea than this - a criticism which could arguably be applied to the whole film. As an experiment in innovative cinematic approaches to Shakespeare, this new version of Macbeth rightfully deserves to be applauded; as a new big screen take on a play already committed to celluloid countless times, however, Monkman's film rarely does enough to distinguish itself from its many forebears.




Macbeth is available to watch digitally now. 


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a contributing editor at Film Intel. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. When he's not writing about films here, Ben is usually writing about films - mostly Shakespeare adaptations - for his PhD. He's also on and Twitter.

No comments:

Post a comment