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Ian MacKellen is quite possibly the greatest Macbeth ever to appear on film.
He is absolutely brilliant in this record of the RSC's Other Place
production, which chops up the text and does magical things with it. He
knows when to use the verse Shakespeare gave him, and what to do with it.
Perfectly complementing him is Judi Dench (great in the sleepwalking scene),
a small and fragile she-devil. John Woodvine is a majestical Banquo - you
truly believe he is the head of a long line of kings - while Ian MacDiarmid
is a memorable Porter/Ross. Roger Rees is good value as Malcolm (despite
the awful pullover), and Bob Peck is a calm Macduff, only stirred into
action by his personal tragedy.
We can get under the skin of these characters, we believe in them. Although this is sourced from a stage production, it uses film to a great advantage and adds layers of atmosphere in its simple and effective setting. Highly recommended.
Dead solid perfect handling of the Shakespeare chiller with greats McKellan and Dench giving their all in stellar performances. A brilliant scene involving Dench as Lady Macbeth in a breakdown that is so haunting, but so incredibly real. She lets out this god awful scream that frightens but also conveys to us beautifully the emotion and loss that this character has just endured. An astonishing achievement.
Dame Judi and Sir Ian McKellen are unforgettable in their roles as MacBeth and Lady Macbeth. It is the best version and I plan to show this film to high school students in the future. It is amazing at how little props can mean and scenery. The actors have chewed it up to focus on the tragedy of Macbeth. Also performing is TV Cheers actor, Roger Rees in one of the supporting roles. Griffith Jones who is still kicking in his 90s plays the old King Duncan. This low budget version was first shown on British television which caused Dame Judi Dench to stop watching herself on television because she would only criticize herself for not being good enough. I don't know what that means to an accomplished actress like Dame Judi Dench. How good do you have to be to remembered in the same category as Dame Peggy Ashcroft, her mentor, Damme Ellen Terry, and Sarah Siddons?
I have seen a fair few versions of this play but this one knocks every single one out the way. There is no better way to get the full experience of this work apart from performing it yourself. Every performance is spot on, the camera work divine and all done so that no aspect of the theatrical performance is lost.
Trevor Nunn has done somthing I never dreamed could be possible.He has staged the perfect Macbeth! Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench, (in my opinion the world's greatest actors)have given the performances of a life time. McKellen's slow decent into Madness is so emotionally powerful that you wonder if anything can equal it,the only thing that does is Dench's own mad scene. Nunn has taken Shakespeare's text and stripped it to its bare emotions,the film is one raw nerve after another from the appearance of the witches and their well acted trances,to the image of the saintly,almost pontifical King Duncan praying after battle. Ian McDiarmid also deserves high praise for his dual role of the austere Thane of Ross and the drunken,almost effeminate Porter. This film is an experience that,once seen,you will never forget.In fact you will want to watch it over an over again. In short,this is Perfect Shakespeare.
Most likely written for King James I, Macbeth is filled with references
to witches, visions, dreams, ghosts, sleepwalking, and imagery of the
supernatural. Professor Brian Levack of the University of Texas, has
said, "Ever since classical antiquity, dramatists have used the theme
of witchcraft in their literary works. The human exercise of mysterious
or supernatural evil has always appealed to audiences and offers the
dramatist numerous possibilities for character and plot development."
Whether or not "evil witches" and witchcraft itself had any objective
validity or were simply social constructs, they were part of the
culture in which Shakespeare lived and his audiences were convinced of
A TV production adapted for film in 1979, The Performance of Macbeth, directed by Philip Casson and Trevor Nunn, is one of the best on film. Marked by powerful performances by Ian McKellan as the ambitious Macbeth and Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth, the film is stripped down to its essentials without extraneous cinematic embellishments, but faithfully conveys the stunning poetry of William Shakespeare. The performance by Judi Dench was widely recognized as perhaps her best and she received a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress.
The first witch scene introduces the reader to thunder and lighting and the mood of darkness is established. Although Shakespeare does not include any description of the three witches, their portrayals in the film as old hags foaming at the mouth would most likely have reflected the prevailing attitude of Shakespeare's times. The witches then plan their next meeting and agree to meet Macbeth upon the heath "When the battle's lost and won". They then depart and mysteriously chant "Fair is foul, and foul is fair",(Act 1, Scene 1) which is a major theme of the play. They are saying good is bad and dark is light which is part of the confusion principle they use to cause the downfall of Macbeth.
The witches are gender neutral and have aspects of both male and female. Banquo says, "What are these / So withered, and so wild in their attire, / That look not like th' inhabitants o' th' earth / And yet are on 't?" (Act 1, Scene 3) Just like Lady Macbeth's association with the presumed male role of aggressiveness, ambition, and cruelty leads to madness, the witch's androgyny consigns them to villains in the play, leading the manly Macbeth astray. The witches confuse anyone who chooses to listen to their words. Perhaps after meeting them, Macbeth is being unconsciously motivated by evil to follow his deepest desires; whatever they may be.
Psychiatrist and author Dr. Jan Ehrenwald posits in Macbeth published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research that "the witches grasped Macbeth's repressed wish by telepathy, so their prophecy is a reflection of his own secret hopes and ambitions, of his own unformulated sinister designs." Though undoubtedly, Macbeth was ambitious, this interpretation, however, is pure speculation and rather dubious considering the witches later prophecies in Act 4, Scene 1. In my view, despite Macbeth's attempt to prevent the realization of the witches' supernatural predictions, he came to accept them as fated or predestined to occur, not as wish fulfillment.
Later, at the banquet in Macbeth's castle, Macbeth is haunted by the ghost of Banquo which is invisible to all but Macbeth. Shortly following Macbeth's change and the banquet scene, Hecate, a Greco-Roman goddess associated with magic and evil powers appears and plans on meeting the witches again so they can deceive Macbeth further. With her great wisdom and powerful occult magic, she plans to stir further confusion:
"By magical sleights, Shall raise such artificial sprites As by the strength of their illusion Shall draw him on to his confusion He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear His hopes' bove wisdom, grace, and fear: And you all know security Is mortals' chiefest enemy" (Act 3, Scene 5)
The most famous witch scene is, of course, the afore-mentioned Act IV, Scene 1, the "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble" scene, where the three witches obtain the approval of Hecate. From this point on, Macbeth and his wife are stricken with insomnia and extreme paranoia. Meanwhile, the dark elements guiding Macbeth celebrate their victory. He believes the witches' prophecies and plans to fulfill the rest of their predictions even if he must influence the outcome himself. This also shows the beginning of the confusion that plagues Macbeth throughout the play. In referring to the words "mortals", it is now clear that Hecate and the other three witches are supernatural forces or demigods working under the powers of darkness.
Macbeth has been erroneously dated to 1606 because of the reference to the "Doctrine of Equivocation" in the Gunpowder Plot. However, recent research has discovered that this Catholic doctrine was first enunciated both in 1583 and 1584, Though earlier plays such as Richard III depict the dark side of the supernatural, Macbeth is the darkest and may reflect the possibility that, in Macbeth, Shakespeare turned from the genial acceptance of the supernatural in A Midsummer Night's Dream to a growing recognition of the hidden evil in men. The Tempest, however, is Shakespeare's final reconciliation with the supernatural, whereby the ultimate act of magic is the renunciation of magic itself. Renouncing his powers, Prospero is able to connect with his true self.
This is probably "Macbeth" as Shakespeare really saw it produced -- no
fancy scenery, no elaborate sets, just stunning actors conveying
everything Shakespeare intended to convey by the power of their own
speech and actions.
The defining moment for me is the banquet scene, where McKellan manages to go from icily cynical schemer to stark raving maniac on seeing Banquo's ghost, and then back again to schemer and then yet back again to broken, frightened shadow of a man by the end of the scene, without for a moment over-acting and without us, the viewer, even seeing Banquo's ghost.
The only false note I think the production had was Judi Dench -- as others have said here, she is of course a splendid actress and her sleepwalking scene was wonderful. But part of what drives Macbeth in the play is Lady Macbeth's threat to withhold sexual favors and her denigration of his masculinity if Macbeth doesn't act more "like a man" and go through with the murder of Duncan (conveyed in this version by her avoiding Macbeth's attempted kiss in the "milk of human kindness" scene), and frankly in this production Dame Judi lacked the sex appeal that would make this viable.
Still, a bravura performance and certainly the best Macbeth I have seen filmed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's finest plays, and this is a most
wonderful version of it. I know that some have disliked the sets,
finding them too dark and bare, I can see why, there are more
interesting sets elsewhere in regard to productions of this play. But I
found that the austerity was fitting with the gloomy tone of the play.
Besides despite their look, they are made somewhat interesting by the
lighting, which throughout with the light and dark contrasts is very
atmospheric. The Witches scenes and the sleepwalking scene are lit
brilliantly, but the one that stood out was when Macbeth greeted
Duncan, the greens and reds was almost like a reference to what was
going to happen later. I found it very foreboding and subtle, yet never
predictable either. The costumes are acceptable, and again fitting with
the play's tone. There are more traditional ones out there, but also
much uglier ones. The camera work is unobtrusive and skillful.
The dialogue is as ever brilliant, poetic yet haunting. The stage direction is suitably intense, the Witches scene in Act 4 is chilling as it should be, the Act 4 English scene is very strongly acted and moving and the banqueting scene doesn't fall into the danger of being misconceived. The music is very well-incorporated and quite haunting, yet it is never over-bearing. The acting is really magnificent. The Witches do give you chills(one is younger than the other two but this really did work), Bob Peck is a poignant MacDuff, John Woodvine commands with authority as Banquo-especially in the "Stop, take my sword" speech and in his ghost guise in the banqueting scene- and Ian McDiarmid brings some well-timed comedy amidst the gloom as the Porter. His Ross is also very memorable and very conflicted, more so than I remember the character being. What makes or breaks a Macbeth production(or any production in general) is the quality of the two leads.
You cannot ask for a better Macbeth or Lady Macbeth. Ian McKellen has so much intensity in his line delivery- just listen to the famous "Is This a dagger I see before me" soliloquy- and his descent from loyal to indifferent, hubristic madness chills and moves. In regard to the latter, I did find his "Out, Out, brief candle" extraordinarily moving, after seeing actors sounding as though they are just reading this particular part, it was a joy to actually see and hear McKellen live it. It more than makes up for his perhaps too warm(in features) face, which is more a nitpick and hardly an issue when the actual performance was so good. Judi Dench's Lady Macbeth is both fragile and blood-curdling, while she relishes phrases like "murd'ring ministers" as she prays to lose all womanhood she is at her best in the sleepwalking scene. Her harrowing scream is truly unforgettable. The two are just as effective together in their conspiring, exuding sexual passion and increasing intensity.
Overall, a Macbeth to remember. 10/10 Bethany Cox
This is about as spare a production of a Shakespeare play as you are
likely to get. It is really more of a reading of the play than a
performance. It is listed as being in color, but the colors are so
muted that I had to check that my TV was not broken, since it looked
pretty much like black and white to me.
Anyone coming to this production cold is going to be quite confused and will most likely abandon the effort.
The acting is stagy - you might say that this film sets the standard for the definition of that word. This will definitely not be for all tastes. As good an actor as McKellen is I could never connect with him in this performance, though he does do a great job on some of the soliloquies, particularly the one ending with "it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing." I was much more engaged by McKellen during his talks about the performance on the DVD extras than I was by his performance in the film. Dench's Lady Macbeth was too shrill for me.
There are some interesting innovations, like "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble," being sung as a Gregorian Chant throughout most of Act IV, Scene 1. Other scenes did not work as well for me, such as the opening shot where the camera pans around the circle of actors. Having some text describing the characters that the actors were portraying would have been helpful, but I saw little significance to this as it is. And the loud organ music I found distracting and inconsistent with the production.
There are some casting problems. Roger Rees as Malcomb, dressed in his knit turtleneck sweater, looks more like he just came out of a fraternity party than being the leader of a large army.
Purists will hurl stones at me for saying it, but I much prefer Polanski's cinematic. "The Tragedy of Macbeth."
McKellen is quoted as saying that this is Shakespeare on the cheap. I think that the statement "You get what you pay for," might apply here.
If the production of a play is very popular or well received by critics
it can sometimes be put on film. That is the case with this version of
Shakespeare's Macbeth. Originally done for television from Trevor
Nunn's stage production, it is a bared-down to the bone interpretation
driven not by spectacle but by raw acting. It is as if you are watching
first-rate theater right in front of you.
Ian McKellen is brilliant as Macbeth as he captures his gradual decent into madness very effectively and with much nuance. The twitchy, nervous nature that he gives in his performance is just right for a man full of ambition, guilt, and fear. Judi Dench's portrayal of Lady Macbeth is a performance that is as great if not more so than McKellen's. She is a manipulative, frightening, and yet very human individual. Her famous sleepwalking scene is the finest piece of acting you will ever see. Ian McDiarmid (best known as The Emperor in Star Wars) is wonderful in the dual role of both Ross and The Porter. Also, Roger Rees, John Woodvine, and Bob Peck give fine performances as well.
What is particularly remarkable is the minimalist way in which it is all done. The setting is all pitch-black. There are very little props and the costumes are relatively simple in fact they never change. It is filmed with both imaginative lighting and with many close ups. On whole, this interpretation is one that is intentionally stark and claustrophobic. This probably how theater would have been like during Elizabethan times. Much is suggested rather than being presented. Yet, this makes sense since Macbeth is a play in which Shakespeare's words can creates images for you to picture for yourself.
The Polanski film is perhaps the best cinematic version of the Bard's bloody masterpiece but if you want to watch the best one done for the stage, then this might be it.
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