Archives for Macbeth

Roman Polanski’s 1971 Macbeth

It's impossible to watch Roman Polanski’s haunting Macbeth and not be uncomfortably reminded of the gruesome circumstances that inspired it. In the late sixties, Polanski was shit-hot off the success of Rosemary’s Baby. He had a beautiful wife and a posh house in Beverly Hills. Then the gravy train derailed with the brutal, senseless murder of his pregnant wife and three friends at the hands of wacko would-be messiah, Charles Manson, and his gang of devotees.
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Macbeth (1998) starring Sean Pertwee, directed by Michael Bogdanov

I was aware of Sean Pertwee long before seeing his Macbeth. I first encountered the sandy-haired, gravelly-voiced actor as the honorable Hugh Beringar in the Cadfael mystery series starring Sir Derek Jacobi, and later as the eerily detached “Father” from the excellent (and criminally overlooked) action movie Equilibrium. My mom and two sisters took a fancy to his rugged features and mellifluous voice and so this movie was a must-see.
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House of Cards: An Elizabethan Drama

Kevin Spacey has recently come off a triumphant run as Richard III at the Old Vic. What better dress rehearsal for Francis Underwood (F.U.), the Machiavellian "hero" of the Netflix series House of Cards, than Shakespeare's "foul hunchback'd toad" who oozes charm and sleazy confidence while scheming and murdering his way to the throne?
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Macbeth (BBC, 1983) starring Nicol Williamson

Nicol Williamson’s voice curiously combines the sound of a rumbling train and a hissing snake. I mention this because it’s borderline distracting, and only adds to the suspicion that Williamson has been beamed in from another planet. John Osborne claimed he was the greatest actor since Marlon Brando, and both thespians unquestionably share an exclusionary eccentricity. Williamson doesn’t seem comfortable in his elongated body; his hangdog face stays mostly immobile as his eyes dart about feverishly, and his breath comes in start-stop bursts. No one could accuse Williamson of cribbing his delivery from any other Macbeth that I know of:
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Macbeth (1948), directed by and starring Orson Welles

© 2004 John Murphy Harold Bloom called Macbeth Shakespeare’s most “Expressionistic” play. It is only appropriate, then, that America’s most Expressionistic filmmaker, Orson Welles, settled on “The Scottish Play” as his first foray into Bard adaptation (later followed by Othello and Chimes at Midnight). Macbeth was an appropriate choice for the auteur, considering some kind of curse had apparently befallen the once wined-and-dined star of theatre, radio, and film. After the tour-de-force debut of Citizen Kane in 1941, Welles’ star dimmed quickly. A series of debacles followed his precocious masterpiece, and by 1948 Hollywood suits had labeled the one-time prodigy
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Macbeth (1978) starring Ian McKellen & Judi Dench, directed by Trevor Nunn

© 2005 John Murphy The set is sparse, dark, perpetually fog-filled. A Caravaggio-inspired lighting scheme picks out the actors’ faces from the deep shadow around them. Shakespeare’s words, in this context, take on a visionary vividness. As with Kevin Kline’s filmed stage production of Hamlet, the words in Trevor Nunn’s Macbeth are emphasized and given life by some of the finest actors around. This is essentially a filmed version of the legendary stage production put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1976.  Despite the absence of many requisite “cinematic” elements, this is by far the most satisfying adaptation of
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