That Kenneth Branagh will play Macbeth at next July’s Manchester International Festival is, I don’t mind saying, wonderful news for those of us who love him in Shakespearean roles. He must be relishing this one already, for there is something special about a villain who has all the makings of a very good man indeed, but who succumbs to the temptation of absolute power. To kill a king to become a king in a world where ruthlessness rules would not be, in itself, much of a story, but to have a man in whom a good king might place ‘absolute trust’ turn into a veritable devil of blood and darkness is the gutsy psychological stuff that I enjoy. A king of the present day, who makes war on his own people through a weak desire to perpetuate his power, is not an interesting villain, whatever the violence he wreaks, but just a feeble and cowardly character. Give me the man, Kenneth Branagh, who has all the goodness of a true, loyal and astonishingly brave subject and a massive potential for self-interest and viciousness. Then there is some real awe to be had.
Oh, yes, there is a Lady Macbeth too, but that’s another story. The mind of a great man sucked into evil is what this crime thriller is all about for me and I predict that Branagh will be a great Macbeth.