While I was convalescing, I spent one afternoon curled into fetal position, watching a Macbeth DVD I picked up a while back. This DVD is the televised version of a Royal Shakespeare Company's production. It was directed by Trevor Nunn (who also directed what may be my favorite Shakespearean movie, his 1996 Twelfth Night) and features the talented Ian McKellen and Judi Dench.
This is the best Macbeth I've seen (that includes several filmed versions and one live performance.) The cinematography--if you can use that word for a TV production and not just for movies--is amazing. The film opens with a cinemagraphic bit that makes shadows look like a human eye; it is almost as if the viewers are being drawn into that eye (think "mind's eye", "eyes are the window of the soul".) Nunn chose to use black and white and make everything happen in a small circle so everything is close-up. Darkness surrounds the actors. All of this creates a feeling of near-claustrophobia. In other words, this is an intense film. And it works very well; the play is pretty intense to start with and Nunn's staging only emphasizes that. Costuming is simple and there are few props; there is nothing to take the viewer's focus away from the characters.
The acting is good across the board, but Dench deserves special mention. As Lady Macbeth, she has fewer lines to work with than McKellen (Macbeth) does, but she succeeds in conveying Lady Macbeth's degeneration very well. The sleepwalking scene might feel abrupt executed by a lesser actor (remember we see Lady Macbeth seemingly coping and attempting to help her husband at the banquet and her very next appearance is the sleepwalking scene), but Dench uses her face and movements throughout to convey her character's inner turmoil so well that the viewer has no trouble believing in her torment having led her to sleepwalk and compulsively relive the crimes she's participated in.
I plan to watch this one again.
I bought my copy at an actual real live store--I believe it was Reel Collections--but the DVD is available at Amazon: