Director: Roman Polanski

U.K.-U.S.A.| 1971. Colour. Anamorphic. 140 mins.

Part-funded by Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Productions and co-scripted by Kenneth Tynan, this Macbeth pumps fresh blood into a revered classic. The main characters and atmosphere could come straight out of film noir, as we see the seduction of a susceptible and ambitious man by a powerful heroine who impels him to murder, all set against a world that is dark with something more than night. The imagery is pure, palpable horror: at this traumatic time in his life, Polanski had no reason to doubt the existence of demonic evil.
As Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Jon Finch and Francesca Annis might miss some of the poetry, but their youth gives an extra frisson to their wickedness: the line ‘fair is foul’ seems to relate to their deceptive ‘fairness’ that conceals the inner ‘foulness’. Polanski’s filming has the dash of the Laurence Olivier Shakespeare films he loved so much, particularly in its bold depiction of the murder of the king, who, in waking to find Macbeth with a dagger at his bedside, involuntarily compels him to go through with the deed. The director is equally imaginative in his transformation of Ross (John Stride) from a minor character into a Machiavellian monster: even Banquo’s son is ingeniously deployed to give a disturbing edge to the ending.

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