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WILL AND ME: The Worst Macbeths Ever Made

Updated on September 30, 2014
The original cover for the video recording of the 1978 Macbeth directed by Trevor Nunn
The original cover for the video recording of the 1978 Macbeth directed by Trevor Nunn | Source

THE WORST MACBETHS EVER MADE!

When you watch a series of films based on the same source material, you are bound to find interpretations that succeed, interpretations that are okay, and interpretations that are just bloody awful. Obviously that is the case with my reviews: I find versions of Shakespeare’s work that are just as good as the original text, and I find versions that completely butches the bard’s words the same away that idiots supporting the Australian Republican Movement butcher logical thinking and freedom of truth!

Inspired by my review of three different versions of Hamlet, I have decided to write another opinionative piece where I look at multiple interpretations of the one Shakespeare play and compare them back to back, seeing which one is brilliant and which one is terrible. By a stroke of obviousness, I have chosen to take a look at Macbeth! But unlike my Hamlet review (in which I reviewed the films on the basis of which I thought was brilliant, okay and awful), this article will not be a trio of films based around “the good, the bad, and the brilliant” format. I did originally intend to write another review in that style, but as the result of pure misfortune, two of the three interpretations of The Scottish Play I watched were unbelievably shite! Both of them had very little entertainment value and every scene you watch sends you into a state of counting how many times Shakespeare has turned in his grave.

Without further ado, these are two of the worst productions of Macbeth I have ever seen….and that’s saying a lot considering the fact I haven’t seen the Orson Welles adaption or the upcoming Michael Fassbender adaptation yet!

***

RSC’S MACBETH (1978):

CAST: Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, John Bown, Susan Dury, Judith Harte, Greg Hicks, David Howey, Griffith Jones, Marie Kean, Ian McDiarmid, Bob Peck, Duncan Preston, Roger Rees, Zak Taylor, Stephen Warner, John Woodvine.

CREATIVE TEAM:

Directors—Trevor Nunn and Phillip Casson

Producers—Trevor Nunn and Verity Lambert

Fighting— Peter Woodward

Music— Guy Woolfenden

Production design—Mike Hall

Costumes— Lyn Harvey

The first version I watched was a recording of a production staged by Trevor Nunn and The Royal Shakespeare Company in 1978, with a young Ian McKallen as Macbeth and a young Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth.

When I first put the disc into my CD-ROM drive (I watched it on my lap-top for my DVD player was being used by someone else at the time), I was sure that I would be seeing a great interpretation of the play with three of the greatest theatricals minds at the helm. But alas, half an hour into the film, my expectations were as dead as Macduff’s family. Nunn’s direction is nothing short of awkward and poorly thought out, consisting of far too many moments where the characters break the fourth wall, poor blocking choices, uninspiring staging and lighting (they did the story as a minimized theatre in the around type experience, which made the production itself more boring than interesting), and there are a lot of embarrassing moments where you can see that the actors and the director clearly haven’t done much research into their characters. They are so poorly interpreted that you can’t help but to sigh and sigh!

The actual production itself certainly doesn’t offer much, nor do the people responsible for recording this for film. A lot of the time, Phillip Casson (the director behind the recording of the play) has no idea what he should be focusing on (spending most of the running time focusing on furniture or some sort of object instead of the actual characters), and for some reason, Casson CONSTANTLY uses extreme close ups. In just about every scene, you spend most of the movie looking straight into the eyes of Macbeth or The Porter or The Witches, creating a really uncomfortable and claustrophobic vibe. Even when there’s a big action scene going on or when multiple characters are speaking, the only thing the camera wants to show is how “beautiful” Ian McDiarmid’s eyes looking in the light, or how many pimples are growing on Dame Judi’s chin. (I’m so lucky that I wasn’t watching this on the big screen or in HD!)

As I briefly mentioned earlier, the cast weren’t that great either. Though Ian McKallen has a good understanding of what the bard was saying and is clearly well trained in projection and delivery, I found his portrayal of Macbeth too evil! From start to finish, the character has no humanity whatsoever, thus RUINING the story of how an honest soldier slowly falls into decline, blood lust and insanity. But of course, I guess there is no shame in having an interpretation of Macbeth where he has always been an amoral psychopath with power on his mind….but there’s no great honour either! What made the original text so unique was the psychological analysis of how anyone can succumb to their bloodier sides and lose control of their innocence in the process. But if you have a portrayal of Macbeth where he has already succumb to the dark side (no Star Wars reference intended) sometime prior to his meeting with the witches, you’re left with a very dull two hour story of a murderous thug complaining about morality when he clearly had none to begin with! Where’s the haunting journey that our main character goes on? Where’s the inner torment in the soliloquies? For the love of f**k Trevor Nunn, what have you done to one of the most notorious plays ever written?

(To make a long story short: Ian McKallen’s Macbeth was a disappointment and clearly didn’t fit the text. The performance felt more like an oddly worded screen test for Richard III than a portrayal of a tragically corrupted scot.)

Other casting disappointments include Judi Dench as a wooden, disturbed and miscast Lady Macbeth who does not excel at any of her speeches and gives an ANNOYING performance that makes you want to super glue her mouth shut; Griffith Jones gives us a very weak and sluggish King Duncan; John Woodvine is too old for the role of Banquo; Ian McDiarmid’s so-called comedic portrayal of The Porter (a form of gatekeeper or servant) was unfunny and just as annoying as Dench’s Lady Macbeth; and a great deal of the supporting cast (with a young Roger Rees included, playing the role of Malcom) were as interesting as a piece of cardboard. The ONLY players in the production that excel in their roles were Marie Kean, Judith Harte and Susan Dury as the weird sisters….but still, that wasn’t enough to save this production from becoming a pile of crap with no personality and no entertainment value from start to finish! All the great speeches are ruined, the themes have been twisted and butchered, and the idea of Sir Trevor Nunn being a great Shakespearean director is very questionable right now. Is possible that we have been worshipping a false ideal?

RSC’s Macbeth….boy did it suck!

***

SVS’S MABETH (1981)

CAST: Jeremy Brett, Piper Laurie, Simon MacCorkindale, Richard Alfieri, Barry Primus, Millie Perkins, Alan Oppenheimer, Franklyn Seales, Jay Robinson.

CREATIVE TEAM:

Director—Arthur Allan Seidelman

Producer—Jack Nakano

Fighting—Robert Aberdeen

Music—Gerard Bernard Cohen

Costumes—Dorothy Baca

Production design—John Retsek

The next version I watched was a production produced by the Shakespeare Video Society, starring Jeremy Brett (best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the 1984 Granada series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) as Macbeth.

I was hoping that this production would fall into my Good category (for by this time I had already seen a version of Macbeth that I immediately placed in my Brilliant category, which I’ll be writing as a separate review judging by the circumstances). But by a stroke of bad luck, this was just as bad as Nunn’s interpretation! Though the staging looked good (being filmed on a sound stage loosely resembling Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre), the lighting was fairly impressive and expressive, the costumes aren’t half bad (notability Macbeth’s rugged soldier outfit), the scene with Banquo’s ghost was very well done and spooky (minus the music score used), and the death of Macduff’s children was perfectly haunting, the positive elements couldn’t save it from becoming another pile of crap that slanders Shakespeare’s text rather than honouring it!

The biggest criticism I found with this version—like with the previous film—is the interpretation of its main character. Though Jeremy Brett is not necessarily awful in the role, he certainly doesn’t fit into the character’s shoes either! Whilst McKallen’s Macbeth was an unnaturally born psychopath from the moment the story begins, Brett’s Macbeth is an extremely loud child with no subtly or realism to found anywhere in the performance! His soliloquies were poorly performed, and his decent into insanity is more laughable than tragic. His “If it were to be done….” soliloquy was loud when it should be soft and personal; his “Is this a dagger I see before me….” soliloquy was rushed when it should be slow and psychological; and the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow….” speech was unbelievably over the top and overly emotional when that isn’t suppose to be the case at all! As many scholars and literary folk have agreed, the speech comes at a time when Macbeth has lost all sense of humanity and has had his heart (metaphorically) replaced with a heart of stone. He is cold and has very little feeling towards the world and the people around him (as proven by his uncaring reaction to the death of his beloved wife). But here, despite the psychological journey he went on, the Macbeth we saw at the start of the production is still there, thus ruining what the play is suppose to be about. The innocent and sissy soldier that we are introduced at the start remains uncorrupted by his actions to the very end.

(Brett may not be an awful Macbeth, but he certainly does not look or behave like the Macbeth Shakespeare intended. Brett’s Macbeth is miscasting at its worst!)

And of course, I do have other criticisms: Piper Laurie gives us a lousy and dull portrayal of Lady Macbeth (portraying her as a mixture of a talentless Bold and the Beautiful villain and a drunken Jennifer Coolidge); Alan Oppenheimer’s King Duncan sounds more like a 90 year old cowboy who has had far too much whisky to drink; Barry Primus’ Banquo is unmemorable; the weird sisters (played by Nomi Mitty, Maria Mayenzet and Eugenia Wright) are annoying as hell; the entire cast in general are EMBARRASSING to watch (they speak with strong American accents with no attempt at all to disguise how they speak); the direction of Arthur Allan Seidelman is clumsy and awkwardly paced; the music used in this production should be condemned for the many bleeding ears it has caused (notability in the scene with Banquo’s ghost where it sound out of place and cartoony); Lady Macbeth’s costume is a real eye-sore and unsubtle compared with the men’s costumes; and the infamous sleeping walking scene (“Out, damned spot!”) scene is stupidly interpreted, resembling more of a Ed Wood film or a kindergarten play than a dramatic scene. (And not to mention Piper Laurie’s lack of effort in the scene. Throughout the entire scene, she is as disinterested with the text as a sleepy teenager. One would think that she caught a bad case of “Who gives a f**k”.)

Like with Nunn’s Macbeth, this movie sucks. It may have its virtues, but it has far too many sins for my liking! A definite thumbs down here!

Jeremy Brett as Macbeth in the 1981 version directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman
Jeremy Brett as Macbeth in the 1981 version directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman | Source

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