In fog-dripping, barren and sometimes macabre settings, 11th-century Scottish nobleman Macbeth is led by an evil prophecy and his ruthless yet desirable wife to the treasonous act that ... See full summary »
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Roman Polanski's version of Shakespeare's tragedy about a Scottish lord who murders the king and ascends the throne. His wife then begins hallucinating as a result of her guilt complex and the dead king's son conspires to attack Macbeth and expose him for the murderer he is. Written by
Jason Ihle <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A few years after this was released in the USA, I convinced my high school English teacher to take our class to see it. (In the days before videos & vcr's, this involved renting a theater and print.) I was glad I did. It is certainly the most real and immediate filmed version of the play. The sets, costumes (or lack thereof), and casting all work to create an accurate depiction of "nasty, brutal, and short" 11th century life. And of course, there is the wonderful insight of Shakespeare's language to engage our modern sensibilities.
One can only thank Polanski for casting such relatively young actors as his leads. Kings lived and died young then, and had to be both excellent generals as well as administrators to succeed. Jon Finch is both athletic and impassioned enough to carry off the soldiering, and young and introspective enough to be moved by his wife both as a woman and co-conspirator. Of course Francesca Annis made a splash by doing the mad scene in the nude--but in medieval times, everyone slept in the nude, so it was certainly accurate to the times.
And as has been noted before, at least the castle keeps are cold, dark, and dirty. The communal sleeping arrangements, straw bedding, flaring smoky torches, seeping walls, and muddy yards all contribute to the historical accuracy of this production. The exterior of Bamburgh also works. And keeping with Shakespeare's light vs. dark metaphors, the mist, rain, and lowering skies combine to enhance the mood.
What happens in this "Macbeth" is as realistic as possible. So what happens offstage in the play, happens onstage in the film: the murders of Duncan, Banquo, Macduff's family. Murder is nasty and bloody and Polanski (having much experience of its results) makes sure we know it. Medieval Scotland was nasty and bloody as well, and if the film is accurate in depicting its setting, why not the action? And only Polanski has an ending that hints that violence and ambition didn't die with Macbeth's overthrow. All said, Polanski's film still has the most accurate medieval setting, engaging performance(s), and thrilling battles.
PS. For those interested in the real historical Macbeth, read Dorothy Dunnett's excellent biographical novel "King Hereafter". Dunnett is world renowned for her historical accuracy, and did much research to create not only a very plausible rendition, but a thoroughly interesting and entertaining story as well.
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