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Tragedy of Macbeth, The (1971) * Top Pick * * Favorite Review *
Genre: Period War Drama (UK, USA)
Starring: Jon Finch (Frenzy), Francesca Annis (Krull • David Lynch's Dune)
Directed By: Roman Polanski (Knife In The Water • Repulsion)
Overview: In Polanski's version of Shakespeare's Macbeth, a Scot rises up the feudal ranks by means of murder and treason most foul.
Polanski's The Tragedy of Macbeth is for all those of you out there who are true Shakespearean purists. It is for ye who loved Pacino's The Merchant of Venice and despised the NYC office tower Ethan Hawke Hamlet (2000) so much that you didn't see it. Polanski's Macbeth is for those of you who prefer Olivier's Hamlet over Bob and Doug Mackenzie's, and for those of you who don't spell Romeo and Juliet with a PLUS - or with a Tee in the front for that matter. I might even go as far as saying it's for those of you who prefer watching Shakespeare on the stage rather than on the screen.
Most notable is the mood of this film: old school knights and war, blood and gore. The battle scenes are perfectly choreographed and exciting, with swordfights in full armour. There is no shielding of the audience's eyes, however, from the carved up pieces of body parts hacked up in rage, or the kicking legs of victims as they are hung in the background gallows while friends walk past, talking of politics. Limbs and blood and deformed sky-clad witches cackle in the harsh weather of the moors while the viscous vicious brew they concoct brings forth gory visions of babies torn from the bellies of their mothers. Servants share their wisdom on sex and urine in the same sentence, all in Shakespeare's own English, and rather than seeing soliloquies done as asides, they are done as internal monologues, which serve to enhance the realism of the scene, and continue to add yet another element to the grand performances of its players, as their silent contemplating faces deepens in us their growing madness.
What I found most surprising is how a musical purist like myself appreciated the score, which did not always use medieval instruments, though still perfectly accompanied the macabre setting with a haunting bow string or single horn's blare.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is tragic before being anything else, and is crowned and surrounded by very little hope. We are made to see the dark ages in the rugged, brutal barbarism it deserves. It's bloody, and it's bloody effective.
Performance: 9 Cinematography: 10 Script: 8 Plot: 9 Mood: 10
Overall Rating: 92% (Tragic? Magic!)
The strangest association this film has is with Hugh Hefner, the playboy of Playboy. Given that no Hollywood studio wanted to finance this project, Polanksi asked his friend and Playboy Enterprises Senior Vice President Victor Lownes to get on board. Many suspected that the reason for Lady Macbeth's famous 'Out Damned Spot' soliloquy was done in the nude for this reason, as though Playboy insisted on it, but Polanski had written the scene to be nude long before Hugh's wallet was involved.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is one of the most engrossing Period films I've seen since I started blogging two years ago. If you enjoy medieval scenarios then you will certainly appreciate the effort put forth in setting the atmosphere of a dismal, barren, rugged wasteland of the soul that is The Tragedy of Macbeth. I need to see this again, and soon.