Film Review: Kit Monkman's Macbeth
by Angelique Jones
Theatre meets the infinite landscape of the green-screen in Kit Monkman’s provocative film adaptation of Shakespeare’s dark psychological tragedy, Macbeth, starring Mark Rowley and Akiya Henry. This is Macbeth for both the seasoned thespian and Shakespeare-newbies alike.
Artfully synthesizing the dynamic elements of live theatre, cinema and the audience, Kit Monkman gives us a highly engaging, and original, cinematic experience. Through the detailed architecture of CGI, as the entire film is shot in front of a green-screen, the action unravels as a fluid and timeless story. Monkman allows viewers to enter Shakespeare's world with no need for a previous grounding in iambic pentameter. We quickly become absorbed by the language, the acting, the story and the textured intricacy of this new world that lies at the threshold of where the stage meets the big screen.
"Monkman’s production brings the thrill of storytelling back to a tale that we know so well."
Ingenious cinematography and set design are what make this production so special. The camera follows the action in a fluid, snaking movement, allowing us to experience the action dynamically as it plays out before the characters. The spiralling shots reflect the gradual spiral to Macbeth’s impending doom, drawing us in to an active, dynamic piece of filmmaking.
When the camera pans out we get an expansive world view created entirely by VFX, resembling Shakespeare’s globe, which is quite literally being sketched out and amended as the production develops.
This virtual globe is the stage on which all the action takes place. It consists of tiers, staircases (which are presented only milliseconds before characters walk them) and encouraging visual representations of relationships and hierarchies. Essentially, it gives the impression that the story is unfolding right before our eyes, and is almost in danger of being rubbed out or re-drafted at any given moment.The unstable landscape mirrors the psychological instability of the characters, we too are made to question what is real and what is not. Indeed, is this is a dagger we see before us?
Monkman’s production brings the thrill of storytelling back to a tale that we know so well. I was so engrossed in the unfolding scenes that I forgot I knew the plot and just delved right in. Macbeth’s CGI dream world is textured like a painting, layered with evolving sketches, classical symbolism (splashes of red on black) and the pathetic fallacy of beautiful, brooding stormy Scottish skies which infringe on the interiority of our characters.
The film is visually and thematically dark, with top-lighting illuminating only on what is necessary. Whilst in-keeping with it’s self-awareness as a staged performance, this spotlight pulls us into the strong performances from Rowley (Macbeth) and Henry (Lady Macbeth).
Both take full command of their characters’ complexity, and offer an intensity that is utterly captivating. And although this production is imbued with the intelligent blend of mediums, the performances are given space to shine.
Unlike any other screen adaptation I have seen, this version invites audiences into a contemporary viewing experience, breaking the fourth wall with the interspersion of a projectionist, who self-referentially sets up his film reel, ready to play his latest film of a tale so widely known. These opening shots are contrasted with an ensemble shot of the King’s council choreographed on what looks like a classical stage, making us quickly aware that this is unlike anything we’ve seen before.
A dramatic soundtrack with deep classical undertones infused with operatic notes heightens the inherent foreboding tragedy of Shakespeare’s tale, reminding me that this CGI world is also deeply drenched in history and hundreds of years of interpretations. This self-conscious performance is intelligently aware of its modern, digitally adept viewer: merging classical elements with fluid camera work and ever-evolving special effects plays on the live spectatorship of theatre and the racy demands of the 21st-century.
I was fully immersed in Monkman’s Macbeth. The non-naturalistic manner of shooting meant that I was invested in this specific world and encouraged to engage in a timeless drama about the destructive psychological effects of power hunger - and all its contemporary relevance.
The dialogue between theatre and film that has been sparked from this GSP production is so exciting for the way that these two platforms will interact in the future, and I can’t wait to see what opportunities will arise from this brave, provocative work.
Macbeth is an ambitious and thrilling piece of filmmaking from Monkman- and it pays off.
Macbeth is available to download here.
All images courtesy of GSP studios.