3 June 2019 | TheLittleSongbird
More fair than foul
'Macbeth', known too as the Scottish play (have also heard Verdi's opera coined the Scottish opera), is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, with some of Shakespeare's most deservedly famous characters and lines/solliloquies. It is one of his most quotable/oft-quoted plays and one of his most accessible to study in schools, from personal experience and studying it twice (no other Shakespeare play had me studying it more than once at school).
The BBC Television Shakespeare series is of great interest and a must see for anyone wanting mostly faithful productions with talented casts, even if the quality of the production values throughout the series is variable and some productions are better than others. This 'Macbeth' has garnered a mixed response and that is understandable, particularly in regard to Nicol Williamson's Macbeth. To me it is neither among the best or worst of the BBC Television Shakespeare series, and is solid enough while a long way from being perfect.
Can completely understand the mixed reactions to Williamson's performance. For me, it was an inconsistent one, with some disengaged interaction early on and some intense moments veer on blustering. Worst of all agreed is the "Tomorrow" solliloquy, delivered far too slowly and is so under-acted that he looks bored. There are though fine moments, especially later on. He looks and acts genuinely spooked in the Banquo's Ghost scene and it's thrilling and did feel a lot of tension in the chemistry between him and Jane Lapotaire. The standout though was the "is this the dagger I see before me" solliloquy, one of the most chilling renditions of that part of 'Macbeth'.
Did feel that the witches were over-acted and not frightening or mysterious enough. The production would have benefitted from a tighter pace, it can drag and more detailed and more engaged interaction would have helped it.
On the other hand, to me 'Macbeth' is one of the better-looking productions of the series. The costumes and atmospheric lighting (especially at the beginning for the latter) are particularly good and while some may not share this opinion the austerity of the sets were perfectly fitting and didn't look cheap. The direction is not always consistent, but the scene where Macduff learns of his family's murder is very moving and the final scene is intensely vivid. The Banquo's ghost scene is problematic, have seen some amateurish staging of that scene and with touches that don't make sense but this production did a decent job with it, the psychological element of that scene is important and that was brought out. In fact, that the production has more of the psychological element of the play more than some other productions works in its favour.
There are some nice little things too, like the genuine terror in Lady Macduff's eyes (hugely telling and adds so much to the terrifying and emotional impact of that scene and something that one can't see on stage), Lady Macbeth's hands covered in blood as she pushes Macbeth towards the bedroom and Macbeth clearly showing nervousness with his hands behind his back. The sleepwalking scene is also spooky and the often brought up touch, also garnering a mixed response from viewer, didn't feel too gratuitous to me, and gratuity is a pet peeve of mine.
Music score is suitably haunting and the camera work is professional. Shakespeare's text is iconic and has a lot of impact throughout, this 'Macbeth' is notable for being near complete in its treatment of the drama and text, more so than most 'Macbeths', and is one of the more faithful in adaptation productions of the BBC Television Shakespeare series. The little that is omitted doesn't harm the production at all, and are some of the weakest parts of the play itself anyway. Forget to mention the rest of the cast. Jane Lapotaire is a bloodcurdling bat-out-of-hell Lady Macbeth, on the other end of the spectrum we have a noble Ian Hogg and very moving Tony Doyle. James Bolam is amusing as the Porter, the only "bad" performance was Tom Bowles' Donalbain but that was not enough to bring the production down.
Summarising, a solid if patchy 'Macbeth'. 6.5/10