Hoping, no doubt, to ride piggyback on the current Shakespeare fad, Grampian's mud-caked, made-for-TV Macbeth has been granted a limited theatrical release to rake in some extra cash. Admittedly, this Jason Connery/Helen "Cardiac Arrest" Baxendale version begins promisingly enough - - a gritty battle sequence, the clanging of metal against metal, Scottish peasants ripped from gut to gizzard. But the spirited, Braveheart-style opening quickly ends to be replaced by an insipid, risk-free staging of the play that verges on the tedious. If you ever endured a minimalist BBC Shakespeare adaptation at school, then, in terms of sheer excitement and entertainment, you'll know what to expect.
Unlike the tingle-provoking, radical and audience-friendly Shakespearian adaptations we`ve been treated to recently - - Romeo&Juliet and Ian McKellen's jackbooted Richard III, for instance - - this Macbeth concentrates on the function of the words and their meanings (no bad thing, but no thrilling thing either). It's a slow, measured, RSC-type affair, all pregnant pauses, thoughtful staring and dramatic arm-waving. To its credit, though, this untidy adaptation was filmed in and around authentically ruined castles and impressively ancient abbeys, which rather suits the story - - if in a rather predictable wattle and daub way. Hairy Shakespeare veteran Brian Blessed was roped in as the production's "Artistic Director", principally to oversee the cackly witch scenes, which he makes his own by wobbling the camera a bit and overusing the smoke machines.
Sadly, the play never truly grabs your attention. "Gripping, intense and terrifying" proclaims the PR blurb, but this production is none of the above. As Lady Macbeth, Baxendale schemes as well as she can, and new-boy Graham McTavish acquits himself efficiently as the ill-fated Banquo. But too damn difficult to accept is a grubby, muddy, beardy Jason Connery trying to copy his dad's famous Scottish brogue. Some of his lines are spoken with a frankly frightening ""Yesh, Mish Moneypenny" lilt"; others pop out sounding precisely as Home Counties as the erstwhile Robin Hood normally does.
The biggest problem is that you'd be hard pushed to find a truly memorable scene. Coming closest are the well-staged battle sequences, and an imaginative interpretation of the ""Is this a dagger I see before me?"" speech, in which a chapel crucifix casts a knife-shaped shadow on the floor in front of the muddled Macbeth. But this Macbeth simply can't hold an Elizabethan tallow candle to the recent Branagh/ McKellen/Luhrmann adaptations. All too obviously a telly affair, it lacks the visual flair or sweep of a porky film production.