Reinterpretations of Shakespeare plays have been a staple of cinema for decades, taking in everything from power struggles in feudal Japan to modern day high school comedies to far flung sci-fi. Often the most intriguing are ones that update the setting but keep the original dialogue, seen most successfully with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Macbeth has been previously done this way in a 2006 Australian effort that transposed the action to the Sydney gangland underworld and starred Sam Worthington in the eponymous role, but even though that was a muddled failure it was still a far greater piece of work than this chaotic mess.
Much of Macbeth Unhinged takes place in the claustrophobic confines of a limousine, and doing so isolates itself from any coherence. You can speak the lines of the play with all the confidence and comprehension you like, but without the context of the associated physical performance or proper setting, the words are rendered all but meaningless. There is such a disconnect between the dialogue and the action that it’s only if you’re familiar with the source material that you’ll have the slightest idea of what’s going on. Granted, Macbeth is one of the best known of Shakespeare’s plays, in regards to both its plot and timeless themes, but it’s not the responsibility of the audience to make sense of a film with their own prior knowledge.
Angus Macfadyen lives up to the film’s title in a raving performance of seething dementia that strains credulity that someone so evidently disturbed could have ever attained a position of power, all the while tonally dissonant comical music accompanies his dark plotting and backstabbing betrayal. The standout performance comes from Taylor Roberts as Lady Macbeth, who appears to be the only one taking it seriously and portrays the infamous spouse as a seductive manipulator, her husky voice hypnotic and commanding. The trio of witches only have any significance in their initial scene delivering the prophetic pronouncements that set the plot in motion (chanted with the rhythm of a skipping rhyme), but despite this they remain around for most of the film, hanging at Macbeth’s shoulder in tight dresses like horny muses of violence.
The movie has the feel of a student filmmaker’s graduate piece rather than a truly professional production, an overtly experimental reinterpretation created for visual style rather than narrative coherence, and thus more like a showpiece instead of something intended for commercial release. A few neat touches stand out amidst the jumbled story, such as part of the witches’ prophecy coming as a disembodied voice speaking backwards or the occasional splash of colour flaring out of the stark monochrome, but they are mere moments within an otherwise forgettable presentation.
An experimental piece that really doesn’t work, Macbeth Unhinged is intriguing in regards to being a distinctive addition to the multitudinous ways in which Shakespeare continues to be adapted, but as a cinematic experience is incoherent and unsatisfying.
MACBETH UNHINGED / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ANGUS MACFADYEN / STARRING: ANGUS MACFADYEN, TAYLOR ROBERTS, KEVIN MCNALLY, HARRY LENNIX SMITH, SETH NUMRICH / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10