MACBETH (1971)

Review by Elaine Ferguson

Starring: Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw, Nicholas Selby
Director: Roman Polanski
Audio:  Dolby Digital 2.0
Video:  Widescreen Anamorphic - 2.35:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:   140 Minutes
Release Date:
  May 7, 2002              

“What’s done is done. Things without all remedy should be without regard.” - Lady MacBeth

Film ***

In 1970, when it was rumored that Roman Polanski was directing and Playboy Production with Hugh Hefner at the helm was producing a screen adaptation of MacBeth, speculations ran rampant.  Many expected a film filled with nudity and sex, instead the team produced a graphic X-rated movie --- of the violent variety.  The film has now been reissued with an R rating, which seems appropriate.  While there is a good deal of nudity, including the famous Lady MacBeth nude sleepwalking scene, very little of it is of the Playboy bunny sort.   This DVD is not for the squeamish; Polanksi’s production does an excellent job of displaying the look and the feel of the barbaric era, filled with many bloody scenes and beheadings.  However, the film never feels over the top with the violence, it all is well done within context of the story.

Shot on location in rugged North Wales, the terrain plays a key role in establishing the ambiance of the film.  When we meet MacBeth (Jon Finch) with his friend, Banquo (Martin Shaw), he is triumphant and powerful. The two come upon three witches, who prophesy that MacBeth will become king and Banquo’s descendants will also serve as kings.  As an aside they mention that MacBeth will not only hold the Glamis title, but Thane of Cawdor as well.  Yet, because the Thane of Cawdor is alive, the two warriors do not take this claim seriously.  So in the morning when they receive word that MacBeth is now indeed the Thane of Cawdor, the two men are stunned.  From here as a result of his ambition, the prophecy of the witches and the goading of his wife, the seeds of destruction are deeply planted in the mind of MacBeth.

When MacBeth is passed over by the King for the title Prince of Cumberland, he returns home dejected to prepare for a visit from King Duncan (Nicholas Shelby).  While talking to his wife, Lady MacBeth immediately makes the stunning proclamation that the King shall not see the morning light.  Francesca Annis’ performance as the powerful and evil Lady MacBeth is very well done in the first half of the movie.  However, the second half of the film begins to focus less on the characters and more on the violence.  So, as a result the downward spiral of her character is treated rather ineffectively.

Video ***

The look of the film is not pristine or sharp by any means.  The transfer is grainy and that plays well within the context of the film.  You get the feeling that it is should not look as sharp as say a modern film such as Gladiator.  The widescreen version does maintain the original theatrical aspect ration of approximately 2:35:1.

Audio **1/2

The audio was disappointing. The Dolby Digital 2.0 can be difficult to hear at times.  With the combination of language of that time period (your thees and thous) and the fact often the characters are speaking so low, I found it necessary to turn on the subtitles.

Features **1/2

It is disappointing that Columbia Pictures did not manage to convince Polanski, Hefner or any of the stars to do a commentary.  Considering the acclaim of this Shakespearean adaptation along with the age of the film, and the fact that the three leads remain alive it would seem that a commentary would be included.  Even the menu is just a simple photo of King MacBeth.  The disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish and Portuguese, as well as theatrical trailers.


This is not your high school play version of MacBeth.  Likely some of the violence was influenced by the fact that Polanski had recently lost his beautiful wife, Sharon Tate, whom Charles Mansion and his family butchered.  There are many great moments in the film and the special effects are rather well done for this era.