Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, Macbeth, is given a modern movie makeover by Director Joston Theney and his co-writers and stars Edward Gusts and Arielle Brachfield in the independent movie The Letter Red.
Over 400 years of storytelling have been and gone yet Shakespeare’s plays remain undoubted masterpieces. Rarely does a theatrical season anywhere in the world go by without a performance of one of Shakespeare’s works. Most of the greatest and most famous actors you have ever heard of, dream about playing one of the roles he created while artists from all walks of life continue to be fascinated and inspired by his writings.
It is the Bard’s tragedies that remain the most adaptable of all of his work, mainly because they revolve around universal themes and feelings that are easily transferred to a modern age. Over the years, adaptations of “The Scottish Play”, which was written in 1623, have appeared in numerous forms, variations, and languages with mixed results. Director Joston Theney, along with his co-writers Edward Gusts and Arielle Brachfield, capitalise on this by transferring Macbeth to a high rise office block in Scotland, CA where John and Jane Macbeth carry out a horrific plan to make their American dream a reality.
Although they stray from the source material, Theney and his team give us a tempestuous vision of sex, violence, and ambition with The Letter Red. Theney, in particular, repurposes the story to fit his own stylistic and thematic ideas; focusing his efforts on elements of self-destruction and mental health issues. He has a tremendous ability to create fear and anxiety from silences and awkward pauses and even though ‘The Letter Red’ starts at the point of total paranoia it descends even deeper into madness as both of our main protagonists do.
The performances are very good especially the two leads Gusts and Brachfield. Gusts, in particular, manages to turn his initially weak-willed and cowardly John into a psychotic murderer, swaggering around with a highly strung volatility and convinces the audience it is all natural. Lady Macbeth, however, has always been the showier role and Brachfield is more than up to the task. She comes across as very unsettling during the film; there is an air of distraction to her performance that enhances her characters psychological issues. Softly spoken but maniacally kooky, she also exudes an alluring sex appeal, especially in her scenes with Ethan McDowall who plays her neighbour’s husband as she manages to be at once cute and then ruthlessly predatory. In fact, all the casting is very good. I particularly liked the choice of having the traditionally male roles of Banquo and Macduff played by female actors.
The cinematography of Joel Hodge is also worth a mention as he is able to convey a lot about character by using very little. Most of the set is sparsely decorated yet, by framing a few characters in front of a bare wall or gently shaking the frame when certain characters are at the forefront of the plot, we are always aware of who is in charge or who is important to each particular scene. The sound design is always interesting, which helps add to the general confusion of John and Jane’s state of mind, while the Industrial punk-esque soundtrack is a nice atmospheric touch.
The Letter Red is a finely crafted Indie thriller that has all the elements of Macbeth including the melodrama and Elizabethan hysteria, yet manages to give it a modern twist. Well written, well directed and well acted, The Letter Red is an unsettling and original take on one of Shakespeare’s greatest works of art.