This week, PBS is showing Macbeth, starring Sir Patrick Stewart, and I am so excited.
I’m researching a novel, and I’ve spent a lot of time with the Scottish usurper lately.
In the last week, I’ve seen three film versions of Macbeth. One, shot in the ’80s, was really terrible, of the variety shown to high school English classes by substitute teachers. I couldn’t get all the way through it, although in my own defense, I tried twice to watch it. It was horrible. Both members of the Macbeth family panted their way through the first act. By the time they murdered the king I was ready to take a dagger to my own temple.
I later saw a very good version of the play, one which got both Ian McKellen and Judi Dench knighted. The film suffered a little, because it was a minimalist production, shot in 1979 and it could not help being dated. That’s a minor issue however – the actors were amazing, particularly McKellen and Dench. All the other Macbeths and Lady Macbeths pale by comparison. (Other high points: look for both Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars films and the Sheriff of Rottingham of Mel Brooks’ Men in Tights among the cast.)
Then I saw an older version of Macbeth – Roman Polanski’s 1971 film, which is not dated at all, but beautifully shot with period costumes, horses, sets, and hundreds of naked women (it was produced by Hugh Hefner.) That Macbeth was a case of style over substance. The film was over-directed; it had far too much cinematography, Shakespeare’s lines were rewritten and re-arranged, and the violence recalls the violence done to Polanski’s own family by the Manson family.
I actually liked Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth (you nerds know her as Dune‘s Jessica), but I thought her role was crippled by her own good looks. She had to do the sleepwalking scene nude, for example. And instead of nagging her husband she would occasionally burst into tears to keep him in check. Ah well. That’s what happens when Hefner is executive producer of a Shakespearean production.
I’ve been most excited about the Stewart Macbeth, which features Kate Fleetwood as the Lady Macbeth. The preview – set in what appears to be the WWII era, looks amazing, and Stewart’s stage production got great reviews. Stewart might be the only actor who can match McKellen’s Macbeth. I can’t wait to find out. Below is the preview.