20 January 2014

Macbeth (McKellen-Dench)

Macbeth 1979
  • Director: Philip Casson (produced by Trevor Nunn)
  • Based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth
  • Cast: Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, John Woodvine, Marie Kean, Judith Harte, Susan Dury, Bob Peck, Roger Rees
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Ian McKellen: Extras, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Richard III, The Ballad of Little Jo, King Lear
    • Judi Dench: Cranford, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Ladies in Lavender, The Shipping News, Chocolat, Tea with Mussolini, Shakespeare in Love, Mrs. Brown, 84 Charing Cross Road, A Room with a View
    • John Woodvine: Hamlet (2009), Wuthering Heights, Pericles, Nicholas Nickleby, An American Werewolf in London, The Devils
    • Bob Peck: Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Surviving Picasso, Jurassic Park, Nicholas Nickleby
    • Roger Rees: The Prestige, Frida, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Nicholas Nickleby
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: Twice. Now: January 19, 2014 

       Oh yes. This is the one. This is the Macbeth film to see, if you see no others.
       The astonishment of the first time over how good it is can’t be repeated, it is almost as good this time.
       The very first scene – a dark stage seen from above with a circle of white…things…that turn out to be stools upon which the characters take a seat. The camera then slowly moves from face to face.
       This sets the tone.  The monochromatic starkness of the entire performance, filmed almost exclusively of the characters’ faces, full frontal or in profile. The black backdrop in which no background at all is discernible. The sharp black and white contrast of the lighting. The slow, often agonizing, pace.
       The only colours in the whole performance are the red of the blood and the garish gaudy gold of Macbeth’s coronation robe and crown.  Almost kitschy. But effectively startling to the eye.
       The cast is generally good but McKellen and Dench are not only stellar, they are galactic. No wonder they both went on to become knighted.
       There are, sadly, some flaws that disturb the perfection. Why, for example, did they make Duncan a doddering old pious pope like figure?  Why did they make one of the witches a drooling, limping half-wit? The fog, and the fading in and out of it, was overused, diminishing the effect of when it was really needed.  And actually, the golden coronation robe was a bit too kitschy, even for me.
       But it really is very good. See it.

7 ½ * of 10

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