Director: Kit Monkman
Cast: Mark Rowley, Akiya Henry
Watch Macbeth online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / eir Vision Movies / Google Play / Sky Store
“O proper stuff! This is the very painting of your fear.” So says Lady Macbeth in Act 3 Scene 4 of Shakespeare’s classic, and this new film adaptation takes that sentiment to heart, taking what initially applied to Banquo’s ghost and reflecting it upon the whole world. You’d be forgiven for thinking you know the Scottish Play, but you’ve never seen it quite like this.
Monkman’s approach is really quite remarkable, stripping down the historical epic to its barest of bones: gone are the expansive sets and expensive crowd scenes, and in their place a simple green screen. Shooting against the non-existent background, Monkman’s Macbeth opens up its scenery like a blank canvas – an approach similar to the one used by Robert Rodriguez when bringing Frank Miller’s Sin City to the screen.
While that was used to recreate a stylised monochrome to the streets of Miller’s city, Monkman uses it to whirl Shakespeare’s text around and in on itself, less a sprawling metropolis and more a self-contained orb. The world is, literally, all the stage, a gigantic globe carved out of the ether, with walking shadows strutting and fretting upon it. It’s visually stunning and compellingly unending, as the camera never ceases gliding from one part of the sphere to the next; events are layered on top of, and beneath, each other, less a string of chronological, linear scenes and more a visible hierarchy of social classes, with Macbeth and his wife forcibly moving themselves up the tiers to the top.
Greens and browns are the hues of the day, with black leather and feather costumes bringing a Game of Thrones-esque vibe to the pastoral universe; there’s no set period here, but a timeless sense of destiny and ambition setting up one’s own fate. The cast don’t always have the conviction to back the stunning visuals up, although Akiya Henry’s Lady Macbeth is wonderfully forthright, and an overshadowed Mark Rowley delivers key soliloquies straight to camera with a soft edge that brings a sympathetic note to our antihero. The repositioning of his “tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech is particularly effective, and it’s Monkman’s handling of the material that ultimately gives this production its strength.
Every character’s entrance and exit is accompanied by shifting and fading details – is this a dagger, a doorway a staircase we see before them? There’s a continuous feeling of futures being erased, written and re-written with every new act – a reality as uncertain, and unstable, as the mind of our eponymous Thane of Cawdor. It’s the very painting of his fear – and, as we mark more than 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, how exciting it is to see someone still imagining new tapestries on which to daub even the most well-known characters. Unique, ambitious and original, this is proper stuff, indeed.