The reigning king of Scandinavian noir (The Thirst, 2017, etc.) updates the Scottish play.
Most of the cast members retain their own names, or something very like them. The setting—an indeterminate town during the drug wars of the 1970s—is, like the settings of earlier entries in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, both the same and different. Nesbø’s Inspector Macbeth is the respected leader of the SWAT team whose efficiency and honesty mark him as a natural leader when he takes charge of the otherwise spectacularly botched stakeout of a drug transfer to the heavily armed members of Norse Riders. Swiftly leapfrogging his old friend Inspector Duff to become head of Organized Crime, he’s pressed by his wife, Lady, to get ahead even further and faster by killing Chief Police Commissioner Duncan while he sleeps in the Inverness Casino, which Lady owns. As in Shakespeare, Duncan’s murder unleashes the powers of hell, which here take the form of massive and spreading corruption—everyone on every conceivable side of the law seems to be double-crossing someone else—more fully fleshed-out accounts of Lady’s background, Duff’s escape, Macbeth’s tangled alliances, and a body count even higher than the Bard’s. Reimagining Shakespeare’s royal tragedy as just another chapter in the essentially unending struggle of working towns against the familiar tokens of criminal blight, though it produces a less offbeat update than the film Scotland, PA, is eminently in the tradition of the gangster remake Joe Macbeth, and Nesbø’s antihero has a chance to get off some trenchant one-liners about himself, his legion of enemies, and his town, which “likes dead criminals better than duplicitous policemen.” On the whole, though, this brutal account is no tragedy.
The main takeaway is how remarkably contemporary the most traditional of Shakespeare’s great tragedies remains, whether it’s updated or not.