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Classic Review: Macbeth (1971)

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Many filmmakers have tried to bring William Shakespeare's work to the silver screen with mixed results. The adaptations made by thespians like Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier are hailed as classics or masterpieces. Kenneth Branagh has also found success in his way of placing Shakespeare's plays into another historical or social context. Others, like Baz Luhrmann and Julie Taymor have presented their own vision but may have been guilty of style over substance.

This Classic Review however will look at another director's vision, Roman Polanski, with his 1971 version of Macbeth which will soon be available by the Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-Ray.

The play and film begin after Macbeth successfully defeats an Irish/Norwegian coalition led by the traitorous Thane of Cawdor. He an his ally, Banquo are traveling back to Macbeth's castle and are met by three witches who hail Macbeth as Thane of Glamis (his current title), Thane of Cawdor, and the "king hereafter". Upon returning to his estate to see his wife, who hides ambitions of power, and his King, Duncan, Macbeth is bestowed the honor or Thane of Cawdor. This launches Macbeth and his wife into a frenzy of lust for power and ambition, and they soon learn that's a hard mountain to climb...(yes, the plot synopsis ends there, this is not Sparknotes)

Roman Polanski's vision lends itself nicely to this play. Polanski works best when he has his characters stuck in dark places, either physically or metaphorically (see Chinatown, The Pianist) and he gets the most out of his shots, script and cast.

Speaking of cast, they are all also phenomenal. Jon Finch is great as Macbeth, a man who faces the consequences of his actions but can't seem to make the right choices. Finch shows a more haunted Macbeth, almost ashamed of the violence and dread he has wrought. The famous "dagger" scene is where Finch truly puts on a workshop, he shows us how to do Shakespeare right. Francesca Annis is also fantastic as Lady Macbeth, as she acts as a mirror for her husband. Her most controversial scene is where her character sleepwalks, but it is truly something to behold. Jon Martin is also great as Banquo.

The cinematography and editing are also swell, shot with grim and moody lighting, it really brings out the dread and despair of this tragedy quite nicely, this is truly a fully envisioned adaption with no stone left unturned.

All in all, this is a solid and great adaptation of Shakespeare. Everyone involved is at their best and are showing it, of you can conjure up some funds to buy it when Criterion releases it, do so, it is truly something to behold.


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