Shakespeare Plays Available in Video Format
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All’s Well That Ends Well
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Coriolanus
Cymbeline
Hamlet
Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
Julius Caesar
King John
King Lear
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Macbeth
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Othello
Pericles
Richard II
Richard III
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter’s Tale
Shakespeareana

Available versions

1948: Orson Welles

1954: George Schaefer

1961: Paul Almond

1971: Roman Polanski

1979: Philip Casson

1981: Arthur Allan Seidelman

1983: Jack Gold

1997: Jeremy Freeston

1998: Michael Bogdanov

2001: Gregory Doran

2006: Geoffrey Wright

2009: Colleen Stovall

2010: Rupert Goold

2014: Eve Best


Adaptations

1957: Throne of Blood

1991: Men of Respect

1991: Scotland, PA

1992: Nikolai Serebryakov, Dave Edwards (animated)

1999: Macbeth in Manhattan

2005: ShakespeaRe-Told: Macbeth


Production drama

2003: Slings and Arrows (Season 2)


Educational

2008: This Is Macbeth

2013: Shakespeare Uncovered (Season 1, Ep. 2)


Macbeth
1997: Jeremy Freeston

This production is a low-budget but thoroughly cinematic treatment of the play, shot on location and not dominated willy-nilly by an overly agenda-driven production design, or transposed to the seventeenth or twentieth century, or set in outer space, the slums, or the world of the mob. It has been handled very unkindly and very kindly by both critics and the public (perhaps ironically reflecting the play’s comments on equivocation). It won a number of awards, but it generally has scored fairly badly in most of the ratings I’ve read. I can only imagine that this is because it is fairly cheaply made, and because some people tend not to take Jason Connery (the son of Sean) seriously as Macbeth, which is really not quite fair.

To my taste, in fact, this production is one of the best I’ve seen, and one of the very few I’d choose to show to any younger audiences. Macbeth is a bloodly play, but we do not have to be shown the blood at every turn. This doesn’t avoid it when it’s necessary, but neither does it dwell on it at all points. Macbeth also doesn’t require nudity or sexual violence at all, and we aren’t forced to deal with those here either.

The actors do not speak in a stage-diction, but rather more realistically, in moderate and modulated tones, often subdued and reflective. I personally find both Connery and Baxendale quite convincing in their roles, but I’m most intrigued by the extent to which they have re-imagined and re-invented them. Some of the monologues are done quite effectively as voiceovers in the face of other action. The photography is not spectacular, but it’s adequate, making use of varied lighting effects, and the shots are well-composed. Perhaps more important is the fact that not everything in the play is framed to visually announce the doom and gloom through a single obsessive color-scheme (as for example the 1983 Gold version for BBC, where Duncan announces, “This castle hath a pleasant seat” implausibly against a backdrop suitable at least to Dante’s Inferno, with red skies and demonic darkness): there are actually some scenes in the daylight that look natural and rational, and ultimately that calibrates and gives value to the visual effect of the rest. The characters have plausible-looking costumes, and the battle scenes are credible (though there are moments at which it seems to veer a little too close to Braveheart). The witches are first seen not merely sitting in a fen, but on a hilltop, overlooking the battle where Macbeth first achieves his prominence, and laughing in apparent satisfaction at the slaughter from afar.

What I find most interesting about the play is that it humanizes both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth more than any other I have seen — they’re drawn not as two-dimensional parodies of evil, but as complex but morally flawed people. Baxendale brings vastly more nuance and sympathy to her portrayal of Lady Macbeth than did most of the others in any of these productions (including Jane Lapotaire, who performed the role in the BBC version.) The strain of the murder and its sequel begins to strain their marriage and every other aspect of their lives. It also manages to finesse what I have always found the single most awkward scene in the play — “Is this a dagger which I see before me...?” — by making the putative dagger visible as an inverted shadow of a cross on the chapel floor. In so doing it sets up a thousand different resonances without even beginning to violate what Shakespeare was saying, but it reduces the cringeworthy artificiality of the scene in many other productions. And yet when she returns from Duncan’s chamber, Lady Macbeth is out of breath, but she also has a slightly manic, knowing smile that is as unnerving as anything I have seen in any production.

If there’s a major defect here, it’s the one that infects most productions of Macbeth — merely that it’s cut. Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, and almost his shortest play (about half as long as Hamlet) and, aside from the Hecate scenes (probably later interpolations) it doesn’t have a line to spare. Any other cuts tend to be crippling, if not fatal. As in many other productions, the porter scene is reduced to its bawdy elements, but lacks the first part that contains the reflections on equivocation, which is a pity. But it is certainly not cut nearly as badly as, say, the Welles version, nor are the lines randomly rewritten as they are, for example, in the Polanski version. The music (Richard Cherns and Paul Farrer) varies from a reasonably good orchestral sound to explicitly Celtic (though not mediaeval Celtic) music made with penny-whistles and drums.


1st Witch: Hildegarde Neil

2nd Witch: Jean Trend

3rd Witch: Phillipa Peak

Angus: Dominic Borrelli

Banquo: Graham McTavish

Donalbain: Paul MacDonald

Duncan: John Corvin

Edward the Confessor: Brian Blessed

Fleance: James Tovell

Gentlewoman: Shona Donaldson

Lady Macbeth: Helen Baxendale

Lady Macduff: Tess Dignan

Lennox: Phil Wallace

Macbeth: Jason Connery

MacDonwald: Chris Gormlie

Macduff: Kenneth Bryans

Malcolm: Ross Dunsmore

Messenger 1: Carl Watt

Messenger 2: Andy Goddard

Murderer: Al Anderson

Murderer: Stevie Allen

Oldman: Robert Little

Porter: Jock Ferguson

Porter: Michael Leighton

Ross: Iain Stuart Robertson

Servant: Roger Webb

Seyton: Kern Falconer

Seyward: Rob Swinton

Watchman: Andrew MacKenzie

Young Macduff: Jamie Main

Young Seyward: Paul Curran