Geoffrey Wright’s Macbeth

Geoffrey Wright's MacbethEnglish teachers looking for a good version of Macbeth to show their students in conjunction with a study of Shakespeare’s play should avoid Geoffrey Wright’s 2006 production. Like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet before it, this modern Macbeth seeks to lure in the younger set; however, unlike Luhrmann’s production, in the case of Macbeth, the update doesn’t work.

The play’s setting is moved from Scotland to modern-day Melbourne, Australia. The cast, starring Sam Worthington as Macbeth and Victoria Hill as Lady Macbeth, is Australian. The play opens as the three witches, who look more like deviant schoolgirls, are defacing a cemetery. Duncan is the leader of a gang, rather than King of Scotland, and when the witches predict that Macbeth can take over the gang, Macbeth murders Duncan and begins his inexorable march toward doom.

The director’s choice to turn the kingdom of Scotland into underworld Melbourne makes the story go awry. Romeo and Juliet makes sense as a gang story as it is essential a story of two warring families. I didn’t buy it with Macbeth, especially when Macbeth’s title of Thane of Cawdor is still applied. I didn’t like any of the characters, and I really didn’t care what happened to any of them.

Pluses:

  • This film might appeal to today’s youth. I read a review describing it as Macbeth for the Quentin Tarantino generation, but I think that’s an insult to Quentin Tarantino.
  • The characters sport cool leather jackets and artfully mussed hair.
  • The opening scene with the witches is truly scary, in my opinion, and the Ghost Banquo scene is superb.
  • The murder of the Macduffs is shocking; the director pulled no punches, though thankfully didn’t show us the poor child’s murder.

Minuses:

  • Nudity and sexual content — Macbeth has sex with all three witches in a bizarre rendition of the second witch scene (“Beware the Thane of Fife”).
  • Butchery of the “Out, out, brief candle” soliloquy.

Bottom line: I wouldn’t recommend showing this one to high school students. Though the film is not rated, the sexual content alone would have earned it at least an R-rating (never mind the violence). None of the actors is a standout, and the modern setting has only minimal appeal in light of the film’s flaws.

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7 thoughts on “Geoffrey Wright’s Macbeth

  1. Funny timing – just today, I held my Macbeth Film Festival with my sophomores. We examined three different versions of the end of Act V – the 1978 RSC version (Ian McKellen as Macbeth), Kurosawa's 1957 "Throne of Blood", set in feudal Japan, and Billy Morrisette's 2002 "Scotland, PA".

    If you're looking for a contemporary re-working (and don't mind straying from the storyline), "Scotland, PA" is fantastic. Depending on the age level of your students, it may require a bit of creative editing due to drug use & profanity (it's rated R), but the story of an over-ambitious burger-flipper who dreams of one day running his own restaurant is something the kids can grab on to while pointing out the different ways it adheres to (and strays from) the original story.

    Avoid it if you're looking for a textually faithful film, but otherwise, my kids really enjoyed what they saw of it.

  2. Have you seen the Shakespeare Retold version? It stars James McAvoy as Macbeth, and he is a chef. Duncan is the owner of the restaurant and a famous television chef. The witches here are turned into garbagemen.

    I thought it was a good interpretation, though the Scottish accents were a bit hard to understand.

  3. Thanks for the scoop. I always show the version associated with Playboy. The director's name escapes me right now. The students love the part of Macbeth's death, I tell them there is nudity, but they never suspect the nude scenes will involve old hags! The technology is not the greatest, but students still seem to enjoy it. I am always looking for a more updated version. Not necessarily set in modern times, but with better technology.

  4. I'm so happy to have read this email…though I wish I had read it sooner. I started showing the movie to my seniors, and plan to continue, but I'm skipping 2 scenes: the "three-some with the witches" and the scene with Lady Macbeth and her doctor. I think I'll probably a good chunk of it after the dinner party scene until right after Lady Macbeth's "Out damn spot". I am showing it along with having the students read movie reviews about it. Then, they are going to write their own, ending with answering the question: Does it do justice to the play? Or, is it a mockery? Then, they must elaborate.

    It's spring. Seniors are mentally vacating the building fast…I just wanted to lure them back in…

  5. The Playboy version is by Polanski–and it's the best one I have found for the classroom. The kids are always intrigued by the Hugh Hefner connection. i too show Morrissette's Scotland PA–it's a great way to compare and contrast the stories, as well as hit upon a director's bent.

  6. Scotland, PA was recommended to me by a local actress who works at the New American Shakespeare Tavern. I'll have to check it out this year.

  7. hmm. My school is doing this play. Except it's set in a high school and Macbeth is a football player. I tried out for the role of Sadie. I don't exactly know who that would be in the play. I'm studying up on it right now but I can't seem to find the play that we are doing online at the moment.

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