Something mediocre this way comes – Macbeth (Film Review)

Publicity for Kit Monkman’s adaptation of Macbeth describes it, in fairly bombastic terms, as: “Successfully bridging the gap between theatre and film to create a wholly new type of imaginative space… Amplifying the theatrical context of the original and creating truly innovative and thrilling cinematic vistas, whilst maintaining the language and themes of Shakespeare’s original play.” Which, in layman’s terms means they’ve filmed it in front of a green screen.

Movies shot largely on green screen are nothing new, but Monkman’s decision to adapt the play in this style brings a sense of freshness to the material, while maintaining an ostensibly period setting and a feeling of antiquity.

Monkman has opted not go down the obvious route of just beaming simple castle and courtyard interiors onto the screen for his actors to inhabit, but to place the play into a mixture of computer-generated sets and abstract locales that incorporate theatrical architecture and open, Brechtian spaces.

Most notable is the transporting of scenes into the inside of a vast globe which simultaneously sits on Macbeth’s desk and envelops the dramatic space. The effect is aesthetically quite interesting, foregrounding some eye-catching design flourishes; although, as the camera dips in and out of the virtual scenery, whizzing from place to place, it occasionally gives the impression of viewing a play through a giant advent calendar.

I’m not sure if the technique is entirely successful, but it certainly isn’t an abject failure. The end result is a sense that the text has been made marginally more accessible, easier on the senses for any viewers who have a hard time adjusting their ears to Shakespeare’s dialogue, but paradoxically distracting the viewer away from the performances. A mixed blessing, if truth be told as the performances range quite wildly in terms of quality: from quietly assured in the case of Akiya Henry’s Lady Macbeth to raving and stodgy on the part of Charles Mnene, breathily stumbling his way along in the role of Macduff. Mark Rowley as the titular Thane of Glamis brings plenty of sound and fury to the role, but perhaps not enough sense of melancholic regret.

Monkman doesn’t shy away from the more violent aspects of the text, sprinkling in a generous amount of blood and allowing his camera to linger on the semi-nude forms of his protagonist couple. You get the feeling that the intended audience is a restless class of 14-year-olds who have been plonked in front of the school television and forced to consume the play in the only way that seems plausible to a harassed teacher.

One assumes that this version will be screened on heavy rotation for the delight of mildly distracted GCSE students for decades to come, which, as damning with faint praise as that may sound, actually speaks volumes for success with which this adaptation has been handled.

Monkman takes a few liberties with the text, binning the important and enigmatic “third murderer” and shifting Macbeth’s famous”to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow” soliloquy to the very end of the movie. A move which is sure to have English Literature professors the length and breadth of the land furrowing their brows.

Dir: Kit Monkman

Scr: William Shakespeare (Adapted by Kit Monkman, Judith Buchanan, Thomas Mattinson)

Starring: Mark Rowley, Akiya Henry, Al Weaver, Charlie Hamblett, Charles Mnene

Prd: Alan Latham, Thomas Mattinson

Music: Tom Lazarus

Country: UK

Year: 2018

Runtime: 121 minutes

Macbeth is available on digital download from 23rd April 2018