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Macbeth (1971) – DVD Review


Written by Roman Polanski & Kenneth Tynan, based on the play by William Shakespeare
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring Jon Finch, Francesca Annis and Martin Shaw


  • Theatrical Trailers

Released by: Columbia-Tristar
Rating: PG
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Rent it, but own it when they give it a decent DVD treatment

Macbeth’s (Finch) world is rocking along pretty well until he runs into three witches who predict that he will be named Thane of Cawdor and crowned king of Scotland, and also that his buddy Banquo (Shaw) will be the father of a long line of Scottish kings. He is convinced that the old hags were pulling his leg, but after he is named Thane of Cawdor, he cannot get the idea of being king out of his head. After all, if the witches were right about him being Thane of Cawdor, why should he think that they will be wrong about him being king, right? His wife, Lady Macbeth (Annis) doesn’t help the matter much by encouraging him to actually murder the king while he is visiting their castle. Macbeth commits the murder and is crowned king, but he again becomes obsessed with the idea of keeping his crown by killing of Banquo and his son. He succeeds in killing Banquo, but his son escapes. Another visit to the witches leads him to believe that he is invincible, and his greed continues to grow and eventually leads to his death.

Polanski’s vision of “The Scottish Play” is one of a very dirty world where very dirty deeds happen. Every aspect of this production seems to take us on a extremely descriptive journey along the underbelly of the world that comprises Shakespeare’s play. One of the things that stood out the most to me about Polanski and Tynan”s adaptation of the script is his use of the soliloquy on screen. I normally don’t agree with the idea of using voice-overs for the soliloquys, but Polanski and company pull it off beautifully. Finch’s Macbeth is very strong. He really lets us see his journey from the faithful subject to the murderous traitor/usurper very clearly. The same is true of Annis’ Lady Macbeth. She makes the opposite journey from the greedy power-hungry wife to the guilt-ridden lunatic and her journey with these extremes is very clear.

The production qualities are outstanding and the fight scenes are some of the best that I have ever seen on film…ever. They are not the close-up travesties that directors present us with these days, but instead are beautifully choreographed fights that flow naturally from one blow to the next. What I mean is that you can see the whole of the actors’ bodies in each fight sequence. William Hobbs very obviously did his homework when choreographing these fights, because each character has his own fighting style and it really pays off in the finished product. After finishing the film, I felt like I had to go take a shower to wash off the mud and blood…and believe me, this is a good thing.

I have to admit, the DVD is awful. There are no special features save the trailers. There are two: one is the original trailer for this film and the other is for Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility of all films. Other than that, you get bubkiss. Based on the poor DVD presentation, I’m recommending it as very strong rental. However, when they finally release a DVD that is worthy of this film, you must add it to your collection permanently.

Buy it from Amazon.
Buy the play from Amazon.

Originally published on Version 3 of the site, ported to WordPress (Ver. 4) on 12/24/2005.