I watched Patrick Stewart's Macbeth last night. It's an opened up version of a lauded stage production- and full of the kind of expressionist touches that work very well on stage, but not so well on film. The world of the production is a bewildering hotch-potch of times and places and cultures. The characters wear Stalinist uniforms and 1940s evening dress; the Macbeths live in an English country house with a Hitlerian bunker, hang out mainly in the kitchen and serve the meals themselves like a modern power couple; Lady MacDuff and her children are murdered in a tiled space that is clearly labelled Ladies Changing Room; the witches are military nurses who use bits of their deceased patients in their spells; the weaponry is modern, but Malcolm leads his army from the front like a medieval warlord. It's a very clever production- and would have been a better movie if three quarters of the clever stuff had been cut.
Stewart is magnificent. I thought he might be a little too old for the role, but he must be the buffest, most vigorous seventy year old on the planet. He has the menace, he has the bluff manly charm, he has the inner panic. It's a genuinely illuminating performance. This, you come away thinking, is what dictators are like; this is what Stalin was like, this is what Mao was like. Susan Fleetwood as Lady Macbeth is haunted and haunting.
Unlike every other Shakespeare play of this stature Macbeth is short on great acting roles; the thane and his wife move among shadows. That said, the supporting cast is terrific- and Michael Feast turns that old ram-rod MacDuff into a proper human being. The scene in which he receives the news of his family's death- and gulps silently for breath and composure- is joltingly painful.