Macbeth (1971) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This version of Macbeth is a visually striking rendering of the familiar tragedy - using minimalist techniques to represent the isolation of old Scotland.
  •  A castle on a rock, surrounded by nothing. (It was a real 13th century castle, the same one in North Wales used for Polanskiís The Fearless Vampire Killers.)
  • A few men riding, dwarfed by an endless and forbidding landscape.

The atmosphere is dreary, creepy, violent, bleak, pervaded with evil vibes.


see the main commentary
The film was notable for four other things:

(1) The actors tried to speak their lines more naturally than was the custom of the time, as if they were real characters rather than reciters of poetry. This may not have been ideal for the nuances of iambic pentameter, but it turned the film into kind of a fresh populist interpretation, which was quite appropriate in the post-Woodstock pre-Watergate world from which it sprang, in which stuffy conventions were being challenged in all media.

(2) The movie was directed by the infamous Roman Polanski, genius auteur, director of Chinatown, lover of very young women, and husband of the slain Sharon Tate. A pregnant Sharon was slain by the Manson family only two years before this film was made, and that event contributed to the nihilistic weltanschauung on display in this interpretation.

(3) There was quite a bit of nudity. The pagan witches were naked, and Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene was performed stark naked. Many people claimed that these were authentic period details. I don't know about that, but I know that the naked Lady Macbeth in question was the stunning dancer/actress Francesca Annis, who would later come to some fame on both sides of the Atlantic as the Masterpiece Theater version of Lillie Langtry and Madame Bovary. Today, at 58, she is still a fox, and is romantically involved with Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is 18 years younger than Francesca, and one of the world's most eligible bachelors, so the fact that he is with her tells you far more than I could say with thousands of additional words.

(4) The violence was portrayed explicitly, as if it were a splatter film. Because of the explicit violence and nudity, the film was originally rated X (equivalent to today's NC-17). It is the spiritual ancestor to the recent Anthony Hopkins version of Titus Andronicus.

If you are a purist, you may be scared off by the IMDB's list of writing credits for this film - Roman Polanski, Kenneth Tynan, "click here for more". When you click to see the additional writers, it lists some guy named Shakespeare. Don't take that literally. This is Shakespeare's play, with Shakespeare's words. The additional writing is in the composition of a screenplay - choosing whether to show a severed head, deciding how to compose the scenes, choosing which scenes to contract, that sort of thing.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic, 2.35

The DVD doesn't have any extra features besides a trailer, but the producers did a magnificent job on the transfer, given a 30 year old film. It is an anamorphic version - ultra widescreen (2.35), newly remastered in high definition. You would never guess its age. It is a very fresh-looking transfer with excellent colors, given the inherent darkness of the presentation to begin with.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. There are two reviews at Apollo: 80/100, 95/100

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it  7.3/10, Apollo voters 69/100
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+.

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