Yesterday I watched the television adaptation of Rupert Goold's Macbeth (BBC4, 12th December, 2010, with Sir Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood in the lead roles - see TV blog). This ran to good reviews from its original at Chichester Festival Theatre, via the West End, to Broadway. Filmed in the subterranean rooms and tunnels of Welbeck Abbey 1, it takes the play into an Eastern European warzone, with explicit resonances between Macbeth and Stalin (alluding, for instance, to the episode when Stalin forced the portly Kruschev to dance the strenuous gopak - "When Stalin says, 'Dance!', a wise man dances") . The witches become malign nurses involved in necromancy (the wounded soldier at the beginning of the play becomes their victim); the moving of Birnam wood becomes soldiers in ghillie suit camouflage.
It was superb: watch it if you haven't already. As Simon Horsford's preview in the Telegraph says:
It is the perfect riposte to cynics who argue that Shakespeare’s plays demand the intimacy of a theatre
and I've taken this view for a long time. Much as I appreciate that many people enjoy theatre, I find cinema and television a superior medium for Shakespeare. This may not apply to small and intimate productions where the audience is, effectively, inside the action, but I really can't see how sitting in a large auditorium watching from one (often distant) viewpoint can compare to the director's tightly-managed control of every nuance of the experience - viewpoint, sound, visual effects and location - that film and TV offer.
If you have access to BBC iPlayer content, Macbeth is available until 9.59pm on Sunday, 19 December. US readers I think can watch it at PBS Video.
1. The home of the 5th Duke of Portland, whose subterranean obsession inspired Mick Jackson's novel The Underground Man.