Macbeth Movie Madness: Pertwee v. Branagh

Last week, I introduced the way we’re going to review videos of Macbeth: a March Madness-style bracket with the fifteen immediately accessible versions. And today we have our second first-round Bard battle:

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the 1998 film, directed by Michael Bogdanov with Sean Pertwee and Greta Scacchi (the #11 seed)
Vs.
the 2014 stage production, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston (the #6 seed)

Talk about two sides of the same coin, er, play…

  • The former is a film, shot on location; the latter a stage production with no question as to its end-to-end performance.
  • The former set in some post-apocalyptic world; the latter ancient Scotland in period dress.
  • The former cut to the bone and it moves like a rocket (and sometimes rushed) because of it; the latter, cutting text and without an intermission, feels quick as well.

I had thought this would be an easy call. I love Branagh (and I kinda have a crush on River Song, I mean, Kingston). But as goofy as the Bogdanov version can be (the Mad Max-ish look and feel has not aged well), there’s something endearing about this version. It captures the headlong rush that’s there on the page.

While Branagh delivers a solid performance, Pertwee is hamstrung by a poor choice by Bogdanov: parts of the soliloquies are in voice over, and this partial approach doesn’t work. On the other hand, Scacchi’s Lady is more effective than Kingston’s…Kingston’s starts too revved up, leaving not much room for escalation. While Scacchi’s “given suck” speech is close, almost whispered like secret in their marriage, Kingston’s is shouted to force an exiting Branagh to stop and return to her. The only place where her histrionics works in in the sleepwalking scene, where her final bit plays almost like a demonic possession… awesome. This Lady Macbeth duel is almost enough to swing the decision to the ’98 film.

Almost.

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Updated bracket: JPG | PDF

In the end, though, Branagh the actor bails out Branagh the Director, and the 2014 stage production wins in a squeaker. If it doesn’t grow better in a reviewing before the second round, that second round is going to be a tough one, going against the Goold film from 2010.

But before then we need to complete the first round, with a 15/2 match up coming up: two versions from 1983–the BBC with Nicol Williamson, and an Imogen Studios release with Michael Jayston.

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