This was what the dawn was doing yesterday morning when we began our day on the beach at half past six. Towering over us, as always, is the great whin sill on which Bamburgh Castle stands, tracing the line of our coast as it has done since long before King Oswald’s time. Then the benevolence of the King of Northumbria, inspired by Saint Aidan and centred on the castle, established the pattern for altruism and philanthropy which continued throughout history (it is not a coincidence that the first volunteer lifeboat crews came from here). As Oswald and the lords of Bamburgh took care of the local sick and fed the local poor – even building a windmill within the walls to ensure the supply of flour – the milk of human kindness nourished both body and soul. It is a good place, whose spirit shines through it.
Last evening, at the screening of Justin Kurzel’s powerful and successful cinema adaptation of Macbeth, local breasts heaved with pride when the familiar silhouette came into focus as Michael Fassbender’s Thane of Cawdor rode to take possession of the throne within what was, for now, Glamis castle, not Bamburgh any more. Great camerawork, vast grey seas and Northumberland’s incredible light banished the good from all scenes shot here and – as at last we saw it put to use – the chilling scaffold on which the Macduff family were burnt to death completed the transformation of our very familiar fortress into a place of menace: harsh, disturbing and comfortless.
Kurzel perceptively captures the play’s mood and momentum, creating a convincing portrait of a society in which no one is ever safe, or even at rest. But where nothing is permitted to diminish the unrelenting grimness, because we don’t hear enough, or clearly enough, of the light and dark, the good and bad, the attractive and the repulsive, strangely enough what we lose most of – now we come to think of it – is a real sense of wickedness; an unnatural world, far, far worse than this.
By contrast, the most haunting and memorable image is the little candle-filled wooden church, an idea borrowed from the Russian steppe, where waxy lights blaze all around the saintly Duncan and, later, the hallucinating Lady Macbeth. The light pierces the moral darkness, the ever-delayed dawn, as happens when we all run towards the sunrise, sheltered by our beloved castle, every morning.