Actor Angus Macfadyen's noir interpretation of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” produced by the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts’ Cinema program, got a screening last Thursday and will get another on June 26 at the prestigious Edinburgh International Film Festival. Several of the student filmmakers will be on hand. I wrote about their accomplishment (and the search for the right limo), unique to the school and film school in general, here.
If you go to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street, Edinburgh, and gaze up above the pointed Gothic arches of the first floor Main Hall, you'll see the William Hole 1898 frieze of 155 men and women who (during the artist’s time) were considered the greatest persons in Scottish history. There, frozen between King Malcolm III with Queen Margaret and Duncan I, King of Scots, are King Macbeth and Queen Gruoch. Macbeth’s eyes are lowered as though listening to a whispered remark by his lady. This makes some sense, as in the Shakespeare “loosely based on a true story” play, Lady Macbeth encourages her liege’s murderous tendencies. Shakespeare depicts Malcolm as the righteous king who overtakes Macbeth and is the son of Duncan — whom Macbeth murdered in his sleep while a guest at Macbeth's castle. This isn’t quite the way events unfolded in history, as you can see here.
But what fun would the real story be for the patrons of the Globe Theatre who stood through two hours of the fast-paced bloody spectacle?
Macfadyen’s "Macbeth: Unhinged" makes use of a huge luxury limousine and real decayed Richmond urban backgrounds to tell this tale. Featured in the cast are Macfadyen's "Turn: Washington's Spies" colleagues Taylor Roberts and Seth Numrich, and veteran actors Kevin McNally (Joshamee Gibbs in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies) and Harry Lennix, who may be familiar to some viewers from his recurring role in "24."
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Angus Macfadyen as Macbeth (Photo by: Tania Fernandez for VCUarts)
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A scene from the filming of "Macbeth: Unhinged" in Richmond (Photo by: Tania Fernandez for VCUarts)
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A limousine is crucial to the action in "Macbeth: Unhinged." (Photo by: Tania Fernandez for VCUarts)
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Richmond's East End served as a setting for the film. (Photo by: Tania Fernandez for VCUarts)
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Angus Macfadyen and Taylor Roberts in "Macbeth: Unhinged" (Photo by: Tania Fernandez for VCUarts)
Behind them was a crew comprising primarily VCUarts Cinema students. Adam Stynchula came into the production by submitting his resume to be an art production assistant for the feature. When “Macbeth” was brought to the Cinema program students, none of them quite knew what their tasks might include. “I thought that they would hire professionals to tackle the department head positions, which was why I submitted my resume to be an Art PA,” Stynchula says.
Jamie King went in as an assistant director, but his professors instead made him a producer. The position was new to his experience, he says, “but I was ecstatic for the opportunity to work on such a big project in such a crucial role.”
Stynchula ended up as a production designer. The responsibility at first worried him, but he took heart due to working alongside another designer, Grayson Turner, which “definitely lowered my stress levels. I mean, we were balancing shooting a feature film in 12 days, spread out on weekends while dealing with all the stress of school work, part-time jobs, and extracurricular activities." For him, that involved being president of the Catholic Campus Ministry at VCU. "It was insane.”
He’s seen "Macbeth: Unhinged" — the director’s cut got a private showing here a few weeks ago – many times. Stynchula enjoys the film, but, acknowledges that “it’s not for everyone. It's very experimental and avant-garde, and outrageous at times. But there is this strange abysmal enigma that keeps pulling you back to those quiet moments near the beginning of the film: inside of the dark limo, hearing Shakespeare, witnessing the remarkably still cinematography ... all of this was quite an odd experience for me.”
He continues, “I think this at the core, packed around with all the absurdity, craziness and madness, will appeal to a certain audience. Whether this audience will be at Edinburgh, I cannot tell. But I have had no doubt in my mind since seeing the first set of dailies that this will be a cult midnight movie classic of our generation.”
Whether youthful enthusiasm or prescience remains to be seen: look for "Macbeth: Unhinged" in the lineup of the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville this fall. The VCU Cinema program will have an exhibition on view there to complement the screening.
“Edinburgh International Film Festival is another huge moment, not only for me, but also for VCUarts Cinema,” says King. “For a film that was created almost entirely by student volunteers, it's such a big reward to see that other people see 'Macbeth: Unhinged' as the film we worked so hard as young filmmakers to create.”
Here’s a behind-the-scenes video of the production. And, we wish the cast and crew well.