Monday Night Movie: Macbeth (1979)

macbethdvdBecause of the long weekend I did not watch a Sunday Night Movie as I typically do. I spent Sunday night playing board and card games with my sweetie-wife and friends. Then late into the night we played video games. In other words it was more like a Saturday night than a Sunday night.
On Monday my sweetie-wife and I watched the British television production of Macbeth from 1979. The production starred Ian McKellen and Judi Dench as Lord and Lady Macbeth. Sharp eyed genre fans will also spot a much younger Ian MacDiarmid (Senator and Emperor  Palpatine in Star Wars) as Ross.

Now this story has been around for nearly 400 years so I think I’m safe from having to worry about spoilers. However, if you know nothing about the story of Macbeth and don’t want anything spoiled, then read no further and only accept that this production is well worth viewing.

Macbeth is the story of a Scottish Lord, Macbeth whose ambition — with assistance from his wife — leads him to murder his King and kinsman, King Duncan, and seize the throne of Scotland for himself.  However, as such thing often go, he cannot stop at just one murder. He sees threats from all sides and murders kin and friend alike to protect his hold on the crown. His ascendancy to King had been foretold by three witches and when those same witches foretell that his rule shall not fall until Birnam Wood moves on Dunsinane Hill, Macbeth feels unbeatable. When the witches further say that no man born of woman shall harm him he feels invulnerable . Being Shakespeare there are of course quibbles around these prophecies that Macbeth fails to appreciate until it is too late.

The story of Macbeth is not the story of witches and mystic powers to lead men astray. Macbeth himself confesses that murder was already in his mind before the witches spoke their first prophesy to him. Macbeth is a study in power and in ambition and in the ragged madness that lies for men when they are commanded by the lust for power and give their ambition reign over their souls. This is a timeless story that has been told and re-told over and over. It has been told as a mafia story and, in my favorite reiteration, as a Samurai action film, Throne of Blood. It is the basis for not my next novel but the one after that where I take the same basic story and set it in the far future. I hope I can do it some justice.

This production is quite startling and much to my tastes. The thing with plays is that every production is invited to reinvent the look of the play without changing the text of the play. Sometimes this leads to very historical with everyone in period garb and gear, and sometimes it leads to most fantastic productions such as the Fascist vision for Richard III. (One I liked very much.) For this production of Macbeth the production designed was very minimalist. There were no sets and the costumes were quite un-period. The stage was blank and bare. All atmosphere for the scenes were created by the use of light and smoke. While this sounds rather droll and dull it was quite the opposite. This production was tense and suspenseful. The director also made excellent use of the medium of television. He did not simply photograph the stage play. he used the camera and the frame to compose shots that heightened the tension, and emphasized the dramatic in the text and in the performance. For the soliloquies the actors delivered their lines directly into the camera lens, breaking the fourth wall and inviting us, the audience, into their thoughts.

This was a treat and one I may very buy on DVD as I saw it via my Netflix account. Man, I love my Netflix account.