I just this week caught up with two shows on cable: The Tudors (2007) and Macbeth (2007). Both productions have casting and/or directorial problems, which is hard to forgive when one is dealing with such well-known stories.
I know that I read about the shortcomings of Macbeth yonks ago when it was first released, and I have to agree: the major parts of M and Lady M are miscast (despite occasional strong moments from Sam Worthington and Victoria Hill), and certain directorial choices weaken the coherency of the show. In fact, particular directorial choices are so glaringly unsatisfying (the “unsex me now” soliloquy as a voiceover? Weak as.) that it raises the question of whether the problems with the major parts are due to the actors or to the director. I vote for the director being such a perfectionist and slave to his vision that he actually squelched the actors’ instincts. It’s such a shame, because many of the other casting choices were powerful, and the director allowed them free reign with their characters, and it worked. Perhaps more veteran actors should have been cast in those crucial leading roles, so that the director felt more confident in them, and allowed them to do their own work instead of being constrained by directorial control-freakishness. In the end, the production flails about, failing to convey a coherent narrative to anyone who isn’t already very familiar with the Shakespearian script.
The Tudors stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII. The production is sumptuous, beautifully filmed and costumed, and historically punctilious (although the vernacular is overly modern). He has the narcissism, petulance, arrogance and intellectual overconfidence down to a tee. He is, however, more than a tad on the scrawny side for a man who was considered almost a giant. Apparently Rhys Meyers decided quite some time ago that he would need to bulk up to get leading roles because he is a wiry git, and fair play to him that his hard workouts have paid off, but he is still a wiry git with muscle on the top, not a bulky presence at all. He simply does not have the physical dominance that the actual Henry had (Henry was 6’2″ and brawny, Rhys Meyers is 5’10” and wiry – the actor playing his political rival the Duke of Buckingham would physically have made a much more accurate Henry). However, the director is choosing shots so that his actor looks bigger (we’re not into LotR territory, but there are some definite techniques being employed), and is not interfering with actorly instincts overmuch. I’m mostly enjoying it, although I know I’m far too interested in the technical aspects of how they play to age and bloat Rhys Meyers for the later years of Henry’s life.
Tangential anecdote: back when I was at drama school, we were reading Macbeth for our Shakespeare class, and our teacher brought out the old litcrit chestnut of Lady M’s speech “I have given suck etc” versus Macduff’s later line “but he has no children”. Oh, what could this inconsistency mean? Our teacher wanted to make some big psychodramatic conundrum of this, I later realised, and he really didn’t appreciate it when I pointed out that historically there simply is no mystery. Gruoch, Lady Macbeth, was previously married and had a grown son from that marriage at the time of the events of the play (Macbeth seems to have been the one who killed her first husband as part of Scotland’s internecine conflicts of the time, and all three were cousins and grandchildren of King Malcolm II). So sure, M had no children, but Lady M had a son, and Shakespeare would have known that, as would the aristocrats in his audience: Lulach (the son) actually was crowned King of Scotland after Macbeth’s death, and had to be defeated before Malcolm could claim an uncontested kingship. Duncan was also a young man, not an old man, who died in battle rather than murdered in bed, Macbeth reigned with acclaim for 20 years, and Malcolm and Macduff had to rule from a fortress in Fife against repeated insurrections, but such remixings are the demands on a playwright who wants royal approval, eh?
P.S. The upcoming British Macbeth I hope will be fun: Anthony Head as Duncan.