Sunday 24 May 2015


(Roman Polanski, 1971)

Polanski made Macbeth in the middle of one of the greatest runs of films in the history of cinema. He also made it soon after his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson family. Both are evident in the film itself, a hugely accomplished Shakespeare adaptation that nevertheless always plays and feels like a Polanski film, filled as it is with darkness, violence, grief and pain.
What is perhaps most impressive is the atmosphere.  From the first sequence of the Witches on a beach, performing a spell as they bury items, the score by the Third Ear Band - which could have been played at any time over the last few centuries - and the muted, painterly cinematography of Gil Taylor combine to create an awful, almost physical sense of foreboding. Jon Finch plays Macbeth as a man weighed down by everything, only truly free amidst the violence of the last scenes, and Francesca Annis makes Lady Macbeth ambitious and manipulative, yes, but never the evil villainess some other actresses have given us.
Polanski struggles to make a few of the dialogue scenes sing - Macbeth engaging the assassins to kill Banquo is a real low point - but each of the set-pieces is fabulous, and the film works well at conjuring up a vision of the ancient, weird Britain hinted at in the play.

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