Return of the Mac

16th January 1998 at 00:00
Macbeth. Channel 4, Thursdays 10-10.16am, Until February 12, Block transmission January 27, 4am

Modern dress versions of Macbeth have taken us on a tour of global troublespots from Vietnam to Bosnia, but with Michael Bogdanov's new version we come grindingly home to... Manchester.

The whole of this 80-minute piece was shot within about 10 miles of Old Trafford, and there are almost as many icons with TV-cred here as in that Theatre of Dreams. The ubiquitous Sean Pertwee takes the lead with Greta Scacchi as his lady; Jack Davenport from This Life is Malcolm, Lesley Joseph (Birds of a Feather) and Denise Black (Coronation Street) are two of the witches, Lorcan Cranitch (Cracker) is Macduff and Ruth Gemmell (Fever Pitch) his doomed wife. Michael Maloney and Philip Madoc appear too, and if you fail to record the complete version, shown on January 2627, you'll miss Shane Richie's comic relief as the Porter because he's been all but cut from the episodic version.

This is a version for 11- to 14-year olds made for Channel 4 Schools, and, as you might expect from Bogdanov, it's pretty uncompromising - though perhaps not quite as uncompromising as he wanted. "The last fight scene is a fist fight between Macbeth and Macduff, and for some reason Channel 4 chose to cut several seconds to reduce the violence in the piece," he says. "It's silly because they see worse violence than that on any pre-watershed telly drama."

The sets are a quarry, a canal-side warehouse, a disused neo-gothic suburban church and the grounds of Arleigh House in Cheshire. The Witches are three bag ladies, and our first sight of Macbeth is on a trials bike when he and Banquo come sliding to a muddy halt. Macbeth has a bandana around his head, so more street cred there.

The warehouse is the Thane of Cawdor's stronghold, and Duncan arrives there in a narrow boat with a Ray-Banned heavy squatting on the roof. The deserted church is the royal palace and the rolling Cheshire lawns represent England. The locations are superb, a tribute probably to the fact that the film's producer, Sue Pritchard, used to produce Coronation Street. The whole thing was shot in just 12 days, all on location, giving a constantinsistence to the narrative.

But this Macbeth is not tailored to its youthful audience. "I can't work like that," Bogdanov says. "I agreed to do a Macbeth that treats the audience as adult, whatever its youth. And I didn't cast it because I thought the actors would particularly appeal to a special audience - I chose the best actors for the parts."

On the whole, they come up to expectations. Pertwee is a classic hero-turned-tyrant with added street fighter menace, and Scacchi is the sexiest screen Lady M I've seen, with the possible exception of Peggy Ashcroft two or three generations ago.

Lesley Joseph is a truly vile witch, and This Life's Miles is recognisable in Jack Davenport's effete, swaggering, cowardly heir to the throne who has steel put in his soul by the tyrannous abuse of his beloved Scotland.

This is an intelligent updating of the Shakespeare play that has been updated more than any other, using limited funds and time to advantage rather than suffering from them. Bogdanov lets his own political thoughts seep in at the end when Macbeth's body is dumped on a rubbish heap for the hags to strip of valuables while a tinny gramophone bleats mocking bars from Jerusalem.

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