Sunday, July 19, 2015

Macbeth (2006) DVD Review

Geoffrey Wright’s film version of Macbeth is given a modern setting, dealing with a crime world, though retaining Shakespeare’s language. It’s an intriguing setting, but of course in the play Duncan is a rightful king, and by portraying everyone here as involved in crime, it casts a very different vibe over the whole thing. This film stars Sam Worthington, Victoria Hill, Lachy Hulme and Steve Bastoni. The screenplay was written by Geoffrey Wright and Victoria Hill.

Act I

The three witches are hot, young, but twisted girls dressed in school uniforms, shown first desecrating tombstones in a cemetery. The first scene ends with “There to meet with-” And the title comes on the screen.

Macbeth (Sam Worthington) sees the girls walking out of the graveyard, which is interesting. He and Lady Macbeth are at the grave of their son, Lady Macbeth on her knees, weeping. So clearly the child alluded to in the play has a significant presence in this version. Then we see Macbeth overseeing packages being delivered by a small boat. The drug deal goes sour, and a deadly battle results. Macbeth and Banquo (Steve Bastoni) then follow survivors to the club that functions as their lair, and capture Cawdor, the traitor.

The film then goes to Scene ii, beginning with “Brave friend” at the place of the battle, with Duncan now having arrived. But when Duncan asks, “Who comes here,” the answer is “The worthy Macduff,” rather than “The worthy Thane of Ross.” Duncan asks him, “Whence cam’st thou?” Macduff replies, “From Cawdor, where began the dismal conflict.” In the play, Ross answers, “From Fife, great king.” Meanwhile Macbeth and Banquo partake of some drug that’s on the table, so perhaps the witches’ appearance is hallucination. Macbeth turns on the club’s smoke machine and lights, so those elements are real. The witches are now wearing hot little gothic outfits. The first line is “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” from the first scene of the play, and Macbeth replies, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” Of course, that connection is in the play, but the lines are separated by a scene. Banquo is in the bathroom, vomiting, and so is not present. Still, Macbeth asks about them not speaking to him, leading the witches to deliver their prophecy regarding Banquo, but they do so to Macbeth, not to Banquo himself. Macbeth then bumps into Banquo who still delivers his lines, “The earth hath bubbles, as the water has,/And these are of them/Whither are they vanished?” But the lines have a different tone, because Banquo hasn’t seen the witches, and so doesn’t believe they were there at all. He has vomited up the drug that may still have possession of Macbeth’s mind.

It’s odd that Macbeth himself caught the Thane of Cawdor, because then his line to the witches about Cawdor still living doesn’t hold as much surprise; after all, Macbeth can assume Duncan will kill him. Duncan enters and speaks to Cawdor: “False friend, no more you shall deceive our bosom interest” (lines from the second scene). He then bestows the title and properties on Macbeth. This reordering takes away from the audience foreknowledge of Macbeth’s new title during the witches scene. Duncan then goes right to lines from Scene iv, when he speaks directly to Macbeth.

Macbeth goes home to find Lady Macbeth (Victoria Hill) asleep in the bath (itself a bit of foreshadowing). Then in bed, Macbeth says some of the lines which in the play Lady Macbeth reads aloud from his letter. Lady Macbeth’s first line then is “I fear thy nature;/It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness/To catch the nearest way.” But it’s said in an almost drowsy manner. And it is Macbeth who suddenly is ambitious, not Lady Macbeth. The film then goes back to Scene iv for the execution of Cawdor, who recites the Lord’s Prayer before being shot. After pronouncing Malcolm next in line, Duncan goes to Macbeth and says, “Let me infold thee/And hold thee to my heart,” lines which are delivered to Banquo in the play and further set Macbeth apart. Macbeth’s aside is done as voice over.

The film then returns to Scene v for Macbeth’s line “My dearest love,/Duncan comes here tonight.” Lady Macbeth has just done a line of cocaine, so perhaps her sudden ambition comes from that. Lady Macbeth steps outside to await Duncan, and we see a swing set, its single swing blowing eerily in the breeze, another reminder of the Macbeth child. And it is then that we get Lady Macbeth’s famous speech (“Come, you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here”), here given as voice over. And right as that speech ends, she and Duncan embrace. Malcolm is accompanied by a woman. Donalbain is cut from this version.

The beginning of Macbeth’s speech (“If it were done, when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well/It were done quickly”) is done as voice over, but then part of it is delivered to Lady Macbeth. Because the characters are all involved in criminal activity, Macbeth’s lines “his virtues/Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongu’d against/The deep damnation of his taking-off” don’t really carry any weight. But Lady Macbeth’s line about her dashing “the brains out” carries a lot of weight in this version, and it’s completely believable that that is the line that convinces Macbeth to do the deed. It’s a powerful moment.

Act II

Fleance’s “The moon is down” line is cut, and he goes right to “There’s slumber in heaven” (“husbandry in heaven” in the play). Most of the dialogue between Macbeth and Banquo is cut. The dagger Macbeth sees is a shadow on the wall, made by a light against a plant. The dagger speech is done at first as voice over. But once he realizes it’s a shadow, he smiles, and speaks the line “I see thee still” aloud. As in most film versions, we do see Duncan’s murder. And, like in some other versions, Duncan wakes first.

The second scene begins with Macbeth’s “I have done the deed.” While Lady Macbeth goes to place the daggers, there is a shot of Macduff with his wife at their home. He looks in on their child too (they have just one child in this version, which I think is a poor choice). And we see Lady Macbeth smearing the men with blood. The Porter is cut. Macbeth answers the door over an intercom system. We see Macbeth kill the two men. Lady Macbeth’s faint seems real in this version, upon seeing the bloody corpse of Duncan, rather than as a ruse to take the focus away from Macbeth. Macbeth’s “know it further” is aimed at Malcolm, which is enough to give Malcolm pause. Because Donalbain is cut, Malcolm’s conversation is with his female companion. After Macduff’s “He is already nam’d,” we see Macbeth being hailed at a party in his honor.

(By the way, every once in a while we see a man with a camera watching the action.)


Macbeth sees Banquo leave the party early with Fleance, and runs out to let him know of the supper being held that night. The “Ride” in “Ride you with Fleance this afternoon” refers to dirt bikes, not horses in this version. Macbeth’s lines about “a fruitless crown” are delivered to Lady Macbeth. And the film goes right to Scene ii for her response: “What’s to be done?” The scene where Macbeth speaks to the two murderers is cut. And the third murderer is cut. Added is a scene where police go to Malcolm, but there is no added dialogue.

Macbeth goes to speak to both murderers, not just one, at the beginning of the banquet scene. Macbeth sits at the head of the table, so cut is the bit where he is unable to find a seat. In the mirror he sees Banquo’s ghost. Macbeth’s “gory locks” becomes “gory head,” perhaps because Banquo’s hair is so short. Banquo’s ghost physically attacks Macbeth, or so Macbeth imagines.

Scene v is cut.

Act IV

The witches appear in Macbeth’s home, and it is possible that it’s a dream. Macbeth enters earlier than he does in the play, as this is perhaps his dream, so he hears the “Double, double, toil and trouble” bit. The witches are naked (as they are in Polanski’s film), and use Macbeth’s kitchen for their spell. And as one witch says the “pricking of my thumbs” line, Macbeth enters, visible just over her shoulder. She smiles at him after the “wicked” line, which could indicate she was teasingly calling him wicked, or that she enjoys his wickedness. The witches each drink from the potion, then offer some to Macbeth. They then hide from him, as a game. When he finds them, it becomes quite sexual, and it is then they warn him about Macduff and so on. I love that the witches laugh when Macbeth says, “Deny me this,/And an eternal curse fall on you.” The vision in this version is of several men saying “Hail Fleance,” rather than the parade of kings.

Because the Macduffs have but one child, “babes” becomes “babe” in “to leave his wife, to leave his babe.” Most of the dialogue between Lady Macduff and her son is cut. The Messenger is also cut, and Ross is given his lines. Because of the criminal element of this film’s world, Lady Macduff’s lines “where to do harm/Is often laudable, to do good sometime/Accounted dangerous folly” have a more immediate context. Macduff’s son is shot, but his line “He has killed me, mother” is cut. When Macbeth and Lady Macbeth watch the news report about the Macduff murders, Lady Macbeth looks with horror at Macbeth. This is the moment where she begins to turn away and lose it in this version. We also see Ross and Lennox seeing the same program.

Most of the dialogue between Malcolm and Macduff is cut, including all of the stuff where Malcolm is testing Macduff. Also cut is the part where Ross first says to Macduff that his wife and child are okay. Also cut are all the lines where Macduff repeatedly asks about his wife and children: “My children too?” and “All my pretty ones?/Did you say all?” It’s a shame to lose those, for that is usually a powerful and emotional moment.

Act V

The fifth act begins with the Doctor arriving outside. But it is daytime. The dialogue with the Gentlewoman is given in Lady Macbeth’s bedroom, while Lady Macbeth is in bed. Lady Macbeth rises and goes into the bathroom to wash her hands in the basin. Lady Macbeth speaks to the Doctor as if he were Macbeth. Lady Macbeth howls as they try to get her back into bed, until the Doctor gives her a sedative. Macbeth then enters (thus combining Scenes i and iii), and the way he asks, “How does your patient, Doctor” indicates he doesn’t really care. He’s so removed from his previous life at this point.

There is then a scene of the men arming themselves, those who will stand against Macbeth. Interestingly, Fleance stands among them. In the play, he disappears. One problem is that you kind of despise Macduff when he shoots two unarmed men who were abandoning their posts with Macbeth anyway. You have to be on Macduff’s side at this point, and this scene makes that impossible.

Lady Macbeth kills herself in the tub, and Macbeth rushes to her after hearing the Gentlewoman’s scream instead of being told of her death. The problem with that is that when he says “There would have been a time for such a word,” it doesn’t make much sense. That line is in response to “The queen, my lord, is dead,” which in this version is not spoken. The rest of the speech is cut, which is unforgivable.

The Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane is a bit goofy in this version. Macduff and company drive a Birnam Timber truck through Macbeth’s gate. The battle is done with guns rather than swords, which is always a weaker choice, and is done in slow motion without dialogue for a while, until Macbeth’s “They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly.” The next line, “But bearlike I must fight the course” is cut. However, that line refers to the previous line, so if you keep one, you must keep the other. All of Young Siward’s lines are cut, as are Siward’s. By the way, for this battle scene, Macbeth has donned a kilt, a sudden nod to the play’s original setting. After Macbeth is stabbed, he makes his way up to his bedroom, where Lady Macbeth is laid out on the bed (someone moved her from the tub), and kisses her, dying next to her. Oddly, Fleance goes into the bedroom and shoots the Gentlewoman, just going to show that everyone in this version is horrible. Macbeth is not beheaded. All of the lines after his death are cut. And as I feared, the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech is done as voice over at the end, which is stupid.

Special Features

The DVD contains a behind-the-scenes featurette, with an interview with Geoffrey Wright, in which he talks about the cast. There is also an interview with Sam Worthington, who talks about the project, about working with Geoffrey Wright, and yes, about the kilt. And there is an interview with Victoria Hill, who co-wrote the screenplay and played Lady Macbeth. She talks about the character of Lady Macbeth, saying, “She’s in a state of tragic denial, feels responsible for the death of her child, but can’t really continue living if she accepts that, so she’s trying to find blame everywhere else.” Interesting. She also speaks briefly about adapting the play.

The DVD also includes the film’s trailer.

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