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.
THE PLOT: Through ambition, greed, and the spurring of his wife a man rises to the ranks of King, but leaves murder, destruction, guilt, and a wide array of enemies in his wake.
THE POSITIVE: This is visually stunning from beginning to end. The photography of the Scottish landscape seems almost surreal. Although some may argue that the violence is excessive it is still well done and works in a nice lyrical fashion with the script. The gory special effects are very realistic and top anything that I have seen in any slasher movie especially the decapitation scene. The witches also come off as looking very frightening here. The scene in their coven where you see dozens of fully nude elderly women is grotesquely brilliant. This is one Shakespeare rendition that doesn't have any of the stiff staginess. The characters seem to be having real conversations and their lines are spoken in a much more natural way. Finch is absolutely perfect in the lead. The facial expressions that he show during Macbeth's different phases are fascinating and right on target. This would be a good version to show to teenagers and others who might not ordinarily be into Shakespeare. The action is well mounted and paced so anyone would be able to follow it even if they are not able to completely grasp the language.
THE NEGATIVE: Outside of a relentlessly bleak visual style that may be too much for some there really isn't anything negative about it.
THE LOWDOWN: This is the best film adaptation to Shakespeare's work that I have seen. It is exciting, graphic, realistic, visual, and captivating all at the same time even for those that may not be into Shakespeare.
Roman Polanski's blood-soaked version of Shakespeare's Scottish play was the video version of choice when we were studying this at school, in spite of it having a nude Lady Macbeth and witches (and Keith Chegwin in the cast - he's Banquo's son).
Jon Finch has the lead and he is exceptionally good. Even a dagger which really appears to float before him (an effect not needed) doesn't spoil things. Odd that he never really got good movie roles after this. His Lady M is Francesca Annis, a spider of a schemer, also putting in a good performance.
Less adequate are Martin Shaw as Banquo, Stephan Chase as Malcolm, and Sydney Bromley as the Porter, although Terence Bayler gives good value as Macduff.
Perhaps this Macbeth is the first one to be truly cinematic, something that even Orson Welles couldn't achieve with Scots accents and Scandinavian settings. It remains memorable long after seeing and, in its excesses, opens up the text for a new generation, and finally, sees the repellent murdering usurper get what he deserves.
(Incidentally for perspective, the book 'Macbeth - man and myth' by Nick Aitchison looks at the real historic facts in accessible coffee-table book style).
To get the obvious out of the way- Roman Polanski directed Macbeth as the first film following the death of his wife, Sharon Tate, and unborn child at the hands of Charles Manson's gang. That factor in the film- not least of which in small details, like the first shot after the opening credits where a man finishing slaying someone looks just like Manson, beard and all- is undeniable, but it shouldn't be counted as the sole influence. Aside from the purging, as far as I can figure, Polanski was doing for himself by going all out in showing the frank and bloody depictions of violence and almost cleansing (as Lady Macbeth would do in madness) of blood on hands that could never come off, of the sort of psychological impact of violence and its aftermath, it was a bloody time in the world and in films. As Vietnam continued to go on, the best films of 1971- and Macbeth could be counted as one of them- were some of the most stylish and explicit in how they attacked systems of government, corruption, and bad-ass anti-heroes or outright villains (A Clockwork Orange and Dirty Harry come immediately to mind). It would practically be dishonest, in a sense, for Polanski not to show how grotesque the acts of murder that, for example, Macbeth's men do on MacDuff's family and servants, or the simple, sadistic carnage of Macbeth's final curtain call in the climax, considering the mood and controversies of the period.
Compared to some of the really radical films of the year, however, Macbeth's story is as old and cherished as children's fables. Yes, children, you all remember the story of ambitious young Macbeth, prodded on by the alleged prophecies of three weird witches, who murders the king by his own (and his wife's) accord, and soon goes mad as power grips him into overreaching his domain and believing himself to be invincible to all but a fleet of woods. Not really too much happiness in Shakespeare's work, and all the better, as it might be his masterpiece: a saga of the frailties of the human conscience and abstractions of consciousness, where the supernatural substitutes just as well for faith in some religious calling- and a questioning and doubt throughout- and what it does to those around the Mr & Mrs who still can't cope deep down with killing a man in the dead of night. Yet even more incredible is that Polanski, as well as Kurosawa with Throne of Blood, enrich the material with the film adaptations, changing around some scenes, omitting some altogether, and offering brands of surrealism based on preferred styles.
While Kurosawa stuck to the Noh method for much of his film, Polanski's Macbeth is an atmospheric milestone as far as concrete production design can go (never once does it feel like they used a fake castle, or much of a fake set even), and all the grays and dark Earth colors, especially when Macbeth goes to the witches a second time, blend into something that matches the psychological conundrum of the king of Scotland and his desperate wife. But seeing Polanski take things further, with touches of the bizarre (the floating and illusionary dagger, the drops of blood in Lady's hands, and the spectacular scene of Macbeth seeing through the windows, shot in a hazy and pirouetting camera), and showing what was only alluded to in strange and exciting ways- the killing scene in the bedroom feels almost like the Psycho shower scene, missed stabs and the messy quality of it all, only from the guilty party's point of view. This, plus the attention to detail in storytelling, the nuanced and gleefully over-the-top dialog provided very close to the original text, and even hand-held camera-work right out of something in Repulsion, makes this a work of daring for Polanski, not simply in the realm of elaborate fights (though there is that) or blood-shed (a lot of that) or decapitations (one or two gushing ones).
Though not to forget as part of the success too, aside from the director's total control of mis-en-scene, are the actors. Jon Finch, who also appeared in Frenzy, is a tightly wound loose cannon, if that makes sense, whose voice-over narration sometimes blends in with talking to himself, and the look in his eyes sometimes tells all, or perhaps not, as case might be. Although Welles and Mifune have their fair share of great Macbeth points in other films, Finch proves himself as on their same level, if only for this one moment in his career. Also very noteworthy (albeit such a meaty part for any actress) is Francessa Annis as Lady Macbeth, and Terence Baylor as MacDuff, and Stephan Chase as Malcolm is a very good choice. And as usual Polanski populates his picture with effective faces, strange looks that seem very conventional and at the same time all apart of the visual and mood. I loved seeing the whole room of witches, most naked (thanks to Hugh Hefner mayhap), and it almost seeming as if a bare minimum of make-up was used.
Bottom line, if you're looking for a hallmark of the dark literary drama, or a disturbing tale of the madness of power, or just a classic Polanski film, it's all here.
I remember watching this film in my Grade 11 English class when we were studying William Shakespeare's "Macbeth". Reading the story a couple of times, I rather enjoyed the classic tale to a degree. Whether or not it would convincingly translate to film, I, along with my class, was about to find out...with Roman Polanski's 1971 film adaptation, also produced by - HUGH HEFNER?!? As strangely amusing as the "Playboy" credit seemed in the opening credits, we were prepared for a very interesting take on the famous, violent play.
Shakespearean tragedies/comedies being translated to film are nothing new, of course. There have been some clear hits and misses over the decades - but fortunately, "Macbeth" does not fall into that latter "miss" category, for it is a tremendously underrated, very surprising, and overall competently made film. Roman Polanski is an excellent director here, and the acting, music, and effects (some of which - particularly the "dagger/murder" sequence - perversely amused my fellow classmates, who are obviously jaded by today's overblown, unsubtle, effects-laden "dramas") worked well for me. As well, the graphic violent and sexual nature of the film (which was also sometimes entertaining to the class, sadly) shocked me quite a bit. Of course, for a film made in 1971, Polanski's "Macbeth" isn't exactly "tame", if you will. Apparently it was rated X at the time, when the notorious film rating existed. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but it clearly wouldn't be surprising if it were, especially considering how intense this film can get - both physically and psychologically. It works extremely well as an old-fashioned action-packed thriller, and even to someone who knew the story fairly well, it was an exciting little soap opera to behold. The class really enjoyed it as well, I'm glad to say; even for all its "old" qualities (i.e. the twangy psychadelic-sounding music that plays upon the closing credits) it still achieved a certain charm that was impossible to deny.
One of the most impressive and enjoyable Shakespearean films I have ever seen, "Macbeth" deserves much more acclaim than scorn - for it is well-made, and enormously faithful to its original source, capturing all the details of ol' Scotland and its inhabitants with great care. It's a wonderful treat. Highly recommended.
Dark, bloody and brooding version of Shakespeare's play about a doomed Scottish king who was, according to his wife, Lady MacBeth "too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way". This is one of Shakespeare's later plays and is entirely devoid of some of the lighter moments prevalent in his earlier work.
Macbeth, a loyal Scottish thane and a cousin of King Duncan, is waylaid with his companion, Banquo, by three witches who prophesise that he will become king and that Banquo will beget kings. Once MacBeth has informed his wife of these predictions, he is propelled by her and by his own lust for power on a journey of self-destruction leading ultimately to madness. In his determination to bring about the witches' predictions, he kills his liege-lord, steals the crown from the rightful heirs, who flee into exile on suspicion of regicide and patricide, then orders the secret murder of ally and friend Banquo and Banquo's son Fleance. So begins a descent into a nightmare existence, replete with ghostly apparitions, sleepless angst and withering self-doubt. Gradually mutual distrust emerges between himself and the nobles whose support maintains his position, and eventually he murders the wife and children of one MacDuff, an act which symbolises the horror he has become. MacDuff, along with other Scottish nobles, has joined the exiled heir, Malcolm, who lives under the protection of the English king. An army of rebellion - or liberation - is brought to bear on MacBeth's stronghold, whilst inside, MacBeth has begun "to grow aweary of the sun". The witches have told him that he cannot be killed by any "man of woman born". But, in the final fight scene, he learns too late that MacDuff "was, from his mother's womb, untimely ripped" and that the witches have, in Banquo's words from the start of the play, won him "with honest trifles" and betrayed him "in deepest consequence", and his destruction is complete.
This is a suitably melancholic reading, full of images of blood, of sombre leaden skies, of torrential downpours and of thickset, bearded nobles. Scotland is presented as a gloomy outcrop on the edge of the known world and the sun has been heavily filtered by Polanski, giving the film a surreal and eerie feel and stressing the superstitious environment in which the play is set. We are also treated to a fair representation of the early Middle Ages, a time when travelling lords and ladies and their kith and kin slept communally on straw in the great halls, side by side with their massive hunting dogs.
The obviously archaic dialogue has been abridged and everso slightly updated for modern audiences. The lines are delivered eloquently by the two leads, Jon Finch and Francesca Annis, who are well matched as the doomed couple, and this clipped entry would be a good introduction to Shakespeare for those of the MTV-set with a literary inclination. All in all a good stab at bringing Shakespeare into the twentieth century and an effort which the bard himself might well have smiled upon.
How does one do justice to one of the most nihilistic murderers in the history of drama? Even Richard the Third has a sense of humor. but once MacBeth buys into the witch's prophecy (which he doesn't have to do) - it's all straight to hell from there. Even his wife finally gets the idea that 'When you choose to ride the tiger, you don't get off' as one Confucian wit put it, long ago....
This is the film that put an end to the "high-school" Shakespeare that we all had to suffer through in the 1960s. That Shakespeare was dull, lifeless, meaninglessly conservative - everyone hated him. In America, we had heard about Peter Brooks, and about an all-nude MacBeth (which of course never happened, the reference was to the "out damn spot' scene, just as we see in this movie); and there were the legendary Orson Welles versions that were, unfortunately, wholly unavailable at the time. Then Zeffirelli made his Romeo and Juliet, showing Romeo's bare butt, even in the ad for the film, and we started getting the glimmer that Shakespeare had been a real person writing about other real people - then came Polanski's MacBeth.
I won't lie and tell you that this is the definitive MacBeth - or even that it's a really great movie - all of the actors seem like they are way over their heads in this material.
But Polanski's purely cinematic bravado pulls it off. Right from the beginning, watching a medieval warrior beat his opponent into a bloody pulp, we are drawn into a world where violence is the only truth we can believe - pretty much as MacBeth himself sees it.
From this point on, there was no turning back. The Shakespeare we inherit from this film may not be the one we want, but he is certainly a playwright of Elizabethan England (which the "high-school" Shakespeare never was).
That makes this film really important - at least until the definitive version actually gets made (and it hasn't, yet...).
"The Tragedy of Macbeth" (simply abbreviated "Macbeth" on most video covers) is a violent retelling of Shakespeare's classic story. Macbeth (Jon Finch), the Scottish Thane of Glamis, conspires with his wife Lady Macbeth (and three strange witches) to kill the widely-respected King Duncan. After committing the awful deed, Macbeth begins hallucinating, hearing strange omens of death and haunting words; his wife similarly becomes worried with Macbeth's bloodlust, and Duncan's son convinces himself that Macbeth was involved in some way with the killing.
"Macbeth" is a true tragedy, and chances are you already know a great deal about it as it seems to be a high school requirement that it be read by all students. The remarkable thing about Roman Polanski's movie is that it is not only a painfully accurate retelling of William Shakespeare's story, but doesn't flinch when it comes to violence.
According to IMDb's trivia section (and I can't honestly say how reliable this information is, mind you), Polanski included very violent scenes (such as Duncan's death, which is NOT detailed in the original text) because the movie was filmed around the same time period of Sharon Tate's brutal murder, and it was Polanski's way of venting stress and anger. One must imagine what happens to Duncan in this film is what Polanski wanted to do to the Manson family members (and you certainly can't blame him).
As such, knowing the circumstances of what brought about the violence, it is more forgivable and certainly maintains a haunting element - some kind of historical relic, just in knowing that it was filmed during such a terrible time in Polanski's life.
The movie as a whole is wonderful. As I mentioned above, its accuracy (in comparison to Shakespeare's text) is spot-on -- entire scenes of dialogue are taken directly from the source, and even the strong violence lends the film a more realistic nature.
Overall, it's an epic and (sadly) somewhat forgotten Shakespeare epic. If you enjoyed "Hamlet" or "Romeo and Juliet" (the '60s version) you'll certainly find this engaging, and - at times - rather shocking, too.
When the text is cut, folks like me hope to hear the rhythm preserved. Polanski and Tynan opted not to try to cut this way. However, what is remarkable about Polanski's film is that the images cut from the language are instead presented visually. Read the play just before watching the film, and you'll see what I mean. A great film for students who are studying, and reading, the play.
This is also one of the great efforts by RSC master fight choreographer William Hobbs, who followed this film with the comic fights of Richard Lester's "Three Musketeers" films. On the stage, Macbeth's next-to-last fight with Young Seyward is often a "warmup" for the big finale with Macduff. Here, it brings the audience back to what characters had to say about "the noble Macbeth" at the play's beginning, before his descent. Hobbs plays Young Seyward, and is established early on, training men to fight. Their astonishing confrontation leaves you wishing Macbeth didn't have to perish.
As another reviewer noted, the DVD and VHS box art is a testament to Columbia Home Video's botched handling: they put Banquo on the cover by accident. The shot is from Macbeth's vision of Banquo and his sons, actor Martin Shaw wears a crown...you can see how easily the mistake could be made, especially if the person designing the art hasn't bothered to watch the film. But never fear, the geniuses at Columbia made it up to Jon Finch. There's a terrific photo of him as Macbeth in the final fight with Macduff. You'll find it on the back of Columbia's edition of Nicol Williamson's "Hamlet." When you're in marketing, I guess all Shakespearean actors look alike...
To say that this adaptation is a bit of a bloodbath is a bit of an understatement, but you cannot deny that this film from Roman Polanski is quite possibly the definitive film version of Shakespeare's play, which is very complicated to even contemplate transcribing to screen. The cinematography is excellent, as is the script. It is true that there are a lot of disturbing scenes, chiefly Lady Macbeth's nude sleepwalker scene and King Duncan's death. Roman Polanski should be commended for how much he managed to get into the film, and he somehow made it all effective. Any scene with the three witches, the murder of Macduff's family, plus the part when Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost was very well done.(I saw an amateur production of this, and not only was it disappointing, but that particular scene was the worst aspect of it) The performances were brilliant, Jon Finch(who did start off uncomfortable) is great on the whole as the treacherous thane-turned-king, and Francessca Annis was nigh-on-perfect as Lady Macbeth. And Martin Shaw was excellent as Banquo. From the suitably eerie opening scene, to the superb climax, this is a near-perfect adaptation, there were just some bits that were really disturbing to watch, that deserves more recognition. 9/10 Bethany Cox
This movie's art direction and cinematography stand up well but it's Polanski's grim shadow in the director's chair that make this version of Macbeth a classic. It's dark, dirty, medieval and disturbing real with Polanski squeezing the last drop of pessimism from his actors... who cast Jon Finch in the lead though? Bill Hobb's handled the fight scenes, which have absolutely no romance attached to them but have to rate as some of the best on film. Visually stunning, thanks to Gilbert Taylor's camera work. Good script, thanks to Kenneth Tynan and Will Shakespeare. Utterly disturbing, thanks to Polanski.
The comments in this section show such erudition--in most cases--that it would be presumptuous for me to attempt a detailed analysis of the film or the play on which it is based.
Hugh Hefner, so often vilified as a pornographer and exploiter of women, produced and bankrolled this distinguished film. It makes me proud--whether this patron of high art phase of his career was destined to last or not.
Personally, I was enraptured by this production. The costumes were authentic to the last rawhide lacing. The atmosphere truly felt like early medieval Scotland. Jon Finch, young, athletic and handsome, made the title character real and alive for me. Every word of the affecting dialog was understood; "a killer with the voice of a poet" to be sure! All the players had great speaking voices, the most important aspect of any Shakespearian production.
Francesca Annis--well, not quite. She was beautiful, yes, but insufficiently evil. One fails to sense the gnawing ambition that makes the name "Lady Macbeth" a byword for the power hungry, manipulative female, determined to act through her husband.
The minor roles were well acted. I LIKED the portrayal of Banquo--a loyal comrade, coldly betrayed. Decades later this same Martin Shaw would play the title role in a detective series on British TV, playing the world weary Inspector George Gently to perfection.
This movie cemented Polanski as my favorite director. It sickens me that some of the other people who reviewed it called it the worst movie they had ever seen. GET A LIFE! WATCH SOME SITCOMS OR SOMETHING! DO WHATEVER YOU FLAKES DO, JUST DON'T WRITE ANYMORE COMMENTS FOR IMDb! Macbeth is an incredibly dark and violent play. In the beginning of the play, MacBeth is a noble warrior and by the end of it he is a psychotic serial killer. Polanski's interpretation is dark, chilling and frightening--as it should be. Polanski's violence is IN NO WAY GRATUITOUS; it's realistic. Polanski has done Shakespeare a great honor by making a script that was made for the stage seem so unillusory. MacBeth's character is no longer something foreign and detached from us, he is real and plausible. The ties Polanski makes throughout the film to Charles Manson and the Sharon Tate murder are undeniably poignant. Through learning about MacBeth, one can easily develop ideas as to what could drive someone to murder. Also, Polanski has unique interpretations of some of the scenes in the play. For this reason, it is even better watch Polanski's film while reading the play simultaneously. *SPOILER WARNING* Early on in the film, MacDuff asks MacBeth where the witches had disappeared off to. (This is right after one of the witches delivers the prophecy that he will be king.) In the play, MacBeth answers MacDuff by saying that they vanished into the air. This is usually interpreted by directors to mean that MacBeth didn't see where they had gone off to. In the Polanski movie, Macbeth DOES see where they went and subsequently lies to MacDuff. This is the first time Macbeth lies in the movie. Oh how I love this movie so...and the amazing soundtrack by the Third Ear Band.
How good is it to see an original piece of work? Well,Polanski has once again given us the pleasure to see one with his version of McBeth. He contradicts all the other directors that follow Shakespeare rigidly and makes the whole play a work of his own, where the murder of a boy impacts more than the killing of a King.
All the other directors chose the easy road. They depict McBeth's world as one in which malevolent actions were supported by logic, but still overcome by well doing at the end. McBeth himself is shown as anyone that reads the play may see him: as the weak man that succumbed to his wrongdoings.
Polanski, however, chooses the opposite: to sympathize with McBeth, and not show him as the regular Shakespearean tragic figure. He even lessens the importance of almost every occurrence, presenting us as if the sequence of events were due to circumstances and no ideals. Polanski's intentions successfully reflected on the play's atmosphere: even Shakespeare's views on the characters were distorted, and those who (under any other director) represented immoral and greedy ideals, under Polanskí's direction they are simply ignorant and opportunistic characters.
The crudity in morals and the bloodiness of his film is a risk he took as a director and an arguable issue among the viewers. Furthermore, this feature of the movie adds meaning to Polanski's intentions.
It must certainly be agreed on one thing: Polanski's "McBeth" has no equal, and his masterpiece goes beyond a meaningless interpretation of the play. It is precisely the meaningless of the events that make up Polanski's creative and unique work.
I saw this movie at the age of 15, as our class were studying Macbeth as part of the English Literature syllabus. The teacher decided to bring a dry dusty text to life for the class and that he certainly did. I will never forget the scene of the 3 witches (due to some witty commentary from another pupil) nor the bloodshed and graphic scenes of violence that most certainly brought the classic play to life for me. 20+ years on Macbeth stays with me, not as some dry dusty text in a forgotten version of the English language. The film's excellent content stayed with me. And I left my English Literature lessons with a love for Shakespeare. I tried in vain to find a copy of this film for my own children when it was their turn (by chance) to study Macbeth for their English Literature. They left their English Lit lessons with a poor opinion of Shakespeare...I couldn't get hold of the film at the time. 20+ years on I have bought the film for my own pleasure.
Roman Polanski's Macbeth, is dark, cruel, genuine, and beautiful. It is a great achievement. Visually the film is amazing with the gloomy Scotish countryside and impressive interiors which give the film the realistic and dreary feeling of medieval Scotland. The music is unique and fits right in with the tone and feel of the film coveying a crude and rigid style. The acting is excellent which is absolutely necessary in any of Shakespeare's works and the actors themselves fit their rolls and bring the characters to life. The directing is masterful and is truly the work of a skilled craftsman with an idea for exactly what he wants. Certain liberties are taken with the dialogue but it remains a good representation of Shakespeare's play and gives it something that the play lacked with its violence and gore which further add to realistic feel of the film. Watching this film, I felt its power. It engulfed me and drew me in. It is one of my favorite films and certainly one of my favorite film adaptions of Shakespeare.
I think that Polanski's "Macbeth" is truly an outstanding film. I wonder why I have never before heard how good it is (and I was a young adult when it came out in 1971). Maybe it was too bloody for most people. However, the gore is not gratuitous. The sights and sounds of this film are powerfully realistic, and greatly enhance the action. "Opening up" this play was for the best. The things Polanski added work: Showing the murder of Duncan (and others) and the remarkable hanging of the Thane of Cawdor are examples of how a film, in the right hands, can sometimes give more than the stage play. And what was taken away is not greatly missed. It is still essentially Shakespeare, excellently performed by a cast of non-stars. What is left is a movie with all the look and feel of a brutal, fierce Scotland of old, which is perfect for this story. It is hard to imagine another filmed version of the play surpassing this one; call this definitive. A perfect 10.
A little more than 400 years ago, at the turn of the 17th century, William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright in the history of the English-speaking peoples, brought forward the tragedy of "Macbeth" to please King James I, who was also James VI of Scotland. The story tells of a tragically ambitious Scottish lord, his scheming wife, and their downfall at the hands of three evil witches. Notwithstanding a few alterations by respected contemporary Thomas Middleton, Shakespeare's work survives him by four centuries, and continues to enrapture audiences worldwide. In 1971, director Roman Polanski brought to the world his deeply personal adaptation, brimming with realistic violence. It's quite clear that this film is Polanski exorcising the demons of his wife's brutal slaying. English actors Jon Finch and Francesca Annis star as Lord and Lady Macbeth, with an able (if indistinct) supporting cast; make no mistake though, this movie belongs to Finch and Annis. Annis' portrayal of the shrewish Lady Macbeth has been the focal point of much debate, with many considering her too soft, but I find her performance to be quite good. Finch is even better, bringing Macbeth's tortured, tragic, and ultimately tyrannical character to the screen. Scotland in this movie is a brooding, shadowy backdrop, and colour appears only with the arrival of the gaudy English army, coming to dethrone the tyrant Macbeth. Polanski and noted Shakespeare scholar Kenneth Tynan modified the Bard of Avon's texts, splitting up scenes and transferring lines from place to place, but the effect works perfectly. A worthy worthy of a 10/10.
Shakespeare mixes poorly with film, and it takes great talent and/or cleverness to do it well. We have a great clever Tempest (Greenaway); a great straight Lear (Kurosawa) ; two great Hamlets, a straight and clever one (Branaugh and Almereyda); two great Romeo and Juliets, a straight and clever one (Zeffirelli and Luhrmann).
But Othello and Macbeth hold special challenges. They are too internal for realistic film, designed for direct bonding between a performer in the physical presence of his/her audience. Welles triumphed with his Othello using the trick of deep architecture, unique to my knowledge. But we still have no masterpiece film Macbeth.
This is the best we have. Polanski understands the devil, specifically the celtic devil which is what this is about (written for the superstitious Scots thug James). He was masterful in other devilish stories (`Rosemary,' `Repulsion,' `Ninth Gate'), and there placed himself within the mind of the character rather than the audience (an Eastern European conceit).
It doesn't work here, I think because there is a visual presence and a quite different one created by the imagination of words, and he couldn't marry the two. None of his other films have particularly worked with language well, even Tess.
What we do have are some rather masterful sets (worthy of Zeffirelli), and an interesting vision of the witches. What we need is a `Shakespeare in Love'- type reworking of the story, built around the witches. He could do that if Stoppard would come back from the dead and write it, back from the devil. Could it tell the truth?
Shakespeare's great tragedy is skillfully adapted for the screen, as Polanski turns the stage play into a truly cinematic experience. Finch is appropriately brooding in the title role and Annis makes a fine Lady Macbeth. The other roles are also well acted, particularly Shaw as Banquo and Bayler as MacDuff. The violence is somewhat gratuitous, perhaps influenced by the Sharon Tate murder, as some have suggested. Polanksi and Tynan stay mostly true to the bard's memorable dialog while opening up the set to beautiful, wet landscapes, reinforcing the somber, gray mood of the play. The scenes with the witches are effective. This was Hefner's first film as executive producer and no doubt his best.
Adapting William Shakespeare to the screen can be a dramatically difficult task. His plays are visceral in writing and do not take the time, which novels do, to describe the visual mannerisms of the story. Thus, it is the job of the director (Roman Polanski), writer or writers (Roman Polanski, Kenneth Tynan), and cast (Jon Finch, Francesca Annis) to create a film out of plain dialog. "Macbeth" in particular is a very dark, visual play that requires a skilled level of film-making. In this regard, Polanski, Tynan, and Finch succeed in their creation of 'The Tragedy of Macbeth'.
The story of "Macbeth" revolves around a Scottish soldier named Macbeth (Jon Finch). After a gruesome battle in which Macbeth quells a rebellion, him and his brother in arms Banquo (Martin Shaw) encounter three witches. These witches give a prophesy that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor, Thane of Fife, and "king hereafter". Macbeth is confused but ultimately fascinated with becoming the king. When one of these prophecies comes true, Macbeth realizes that it's very possible he will become king. He sends a letter to his wife (Francesca Annis) explaining the events. Lady Macbeth fears that her husband is too weak to seize the opportunity, and manipulates Macbeth into killing the honorable king Duncan (Nicholas Selby) to seize the position. When this happens, Macbeth becomes king but everything fails. Strange events begin to happy in the castle at Scottland, there is mutiny in the ranks, and all of Scottland fears and hates Macbeth. In England two ardent followers of Duncan including his son Malcolm (Stephan Chase) and a member of Scottish royalty Macduff (Terence Bayler) decide that it is necessary to rid Macbeth from power. Consequences come to a head and ultimately everything leads to a violent conclusion in a bloody final stand between Macbeth and the English Army.
Roman Polanski has a history of making dark films. Whether it's the quiet and dreamy atmosphere of 'Rosemary's Baby' or the cool mystery noir of 'Chinatown' Polanski understands how such gloomy film-making can affect the viewer. In 'The Tragedy of Macbeth' Polanski uses this to create a large amount of tension in his story. The characters are violent and ruthless, and the language is a means of starting violent conflict. 'The Tragedy of Macbeth' may have struck a personal chord for Polanski as it was being filmed when his wife Sharon Tate was untimely murdered by the Mason Family. "Macbeth" is in it's own way a dramatic and violent tale, but Polanski accelerates the level of violence to sometimes gratuitous portions. Severed limbers are constantly show with bloodshed every which way. Part of the art "Macbeth" was Shakespeare's ability to convey the sense of increasing danger and blood using only words. There is one sword fight in the end of the play, necessary to filming but it seems Polanski took the major battle scenes and breathed life into them too much. The film has a murky visual style, as if filmed on a low budget. Interestingly enough, ipso facto this murky visual style is a component of the film. The low budget and dark visuals become sensory and contribute to the atmosphere Polanski was trying to form. The cast is able enough, providing the necessary traits to effectively project the dialog and language onto the screen. Most notable is Finch as the torn Scottish king, who's conscience ultimately betrays him.
'The Tragedy of Macbeth' may not be a brilliant adaptation of the popular play, but Roman Polanski has a certain amount of success in the way he films the ideas set out by William Shakespeare. It's too grotesque for it's own good, but in the end it's a solid and worthy counter-part. 8/10
The Scottish Play was always my favourite of Shakespeare's tragedies and this, Polanski's first film after the death of Sharon Tate is EXACTLY how I imagined any film version of the story should look. The film is well researched; just look, for example at the witches' scenes, with ceremonies utilising such traditional tools as the severed left arm of a hanged man and a hangman's noose. Even better is the re-enactment of an ancient Celtic coronation ceremony. The grim, filthy setting of the Middle Ages is perfectly evoked; it really was this nasty, this cold, and this gory at that time and it makes perfect sense for Polanski to work out the horror of Tate's murder into this production. Sure, there are a couple of gripes; Annis' Lady Macbeth does not go mad half as well as Judy Dench's did in a 70's T.V. adaptation and the violence is rather toned down in comparison with Shakespeare's original text but less is often more. Finch's performance is nothing short of brilliant (his understated, nihilistic reaction to his beloved wife's death is a highlight) but the best point is the photography; the sky is all brooding thunder clouds and the hue of a coming storm pervades every frame. This beats Wells' ludicrous, Ed Wood-style adaptation hands down.
I have seen two versions of Macbeth. The other, apart from this, stars Jason Connery and Helen Baxendale and is quite staggering in its total crapness. Almost every scene is screwed up. Polanski, however, gets nearly everything right. The poetry is stripped from the text, leaving a dark, treacherous world in its wake. The surrealist scenes involving the witches stand out in particular. Polanski had the actresses walking on glass in the opening scene, so that they would not make footprints in the sand. Macbeth's second audience with the witches is like a weird trip to the afterlife and back again. Above all, the symbolism of blood stands out again and again, whether it be the setting sun that makes creepy shadows of Birnam Wood as it floats towards Dunsinane, or the brutal scenes of battle and murder.
Macbeth is a difficult tragic hero to empathise with. He's just such a nasty piece of work. But seeing his nimble footwork as he toys with Young Siward before killing him, and his vainglorious final battle with Macduff, I felt a sneaking admiration for him, particularly in comparison with some of the other slimy lords in the kingdom, who were happy enough to support Macbeth in his treachery until they saw which way the wind was blowing.
This is a great version of Macbeth. Jon Finch makes a great title character, demonstrating both warrior prowess and pale-skinned fear with equal skill. Francesca Annis is absolutely tremendous as Lady Macbeth, exuding a potent sexuality and a lethal machiavellian streak. Even Keith Chegwin does his part. The only slight fly in the ointment is Terence `I'm Brian and so's my wife' Bayler, who is such a ham as Macduff that several key scenes come across as bad farce. But this is small beer. If you're a Shakespeare fan, this film is essential viewing. If you're not, watch it anyway.
This is truly polanski's dark masterpiece that is rarely discussed. After the trauma of polanski's life - his parents dying in during the holocaust, the killing of sharon tate, polanski the artist contributes this fascinating adaption of shakespeare's play. out damned spot out....indeed. The blurry dreamy photography of a softly tinged filter is reminisent of Geoffry unsworth's photography on Boorman's Zardoz and both complement's the Macbeth's demented blurry nightmare state and it's set and symbolism. Truly a great film which is both sexy, scary and sensual.