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Macbeth e Banquo, generali di Duncan, re di Scozia, al ritorno da una vittoriosa campagna contro i ribelli, incontrano tre streghe, le quali predicono al primo che diventerà signore di Cawdor e poi re, al secondo che, senza mai ascendere al trono, genererà dei sovrani. Avveratasi subito la prima parte della profezia, Macbth si confida con la moglie, che lo esorta a liberarsi degli scrupoli e fare quanto sta in lui perché il resto ne segua. Mentre Duncan è ospite nel suo castello, Macbeth lo uccide, attribuendo l'assassinio a due servi, che egli giustizia con le proprie mani prima che possano discolparsi. Fuggiti i figli di Duncan, Malcolm e Donalbain, Macbeth, benché dilaniato dal rimorso, prende la corona. Per impedire che s'avveri, per Banquo, la profezia delle streghe, assolda due sicari con l'ordine di uccidere l'amico e suo figlio Fleance, che riesce a mettersi n salvo. Perseguitato dallo spettro di Banquo, apparsogli durante un festino, Macbeth consulta le streghe, che gli dicono: di guardarsi da Macduff, signore di Fife, che nessun nato di donna potrà nuocergli, che, infine, egli sarà vinto soltanto quando la foresta di Birnam si muoverà. Macbeth fa uccidere la moglie e i figli di Macduff, che si è unito a Malcolm per raccogliere un esercito in Inghilterra. Persa la ragione, lady Macbeth si uccide. Mascherandosi dietro i rami strappati alla foresta di Birnam, l'esercito di Malcolm e Macduff assale il castello di Macbeth. Morto il sovrano, ucciso da Macduff (che era stato estratto coi ferri dal ventre della madre morta), Malcolm diviene il nuovo re.
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But he didn't seem to get a great performance out of Jon Finch the title role. Jon had a limited range of facial expressions not really conveying the incredible life changes that Macbeth was going through except towards the very end of the film!
Probably would have been better for Polanski to swop his role with that of his co-star, Martin Shaw (playing Banquo). I do regard Martin Shaw as the better actor having seen him on stage as well as films and television.
But Francesca Annis gives a powerful performance as Lady Macbeth, moving from the character's initial relentless ambition to her descent into
Often described as a "very bloody account" but that's a 1971 view and these days would not be seen as so controversial.
Polanki - Mud, bloody, poetry, drama Fassbender - Substandard spaghetti western in Scotland with no porter and very fleeting weird sisters
Like a lot of more recent Shakespeare films, though, this is stronger on spectacle than dialogue. A lot of the soliloquies are internalised - ie. the actor 'thinks' them, speaking them only as voiceover. It's an interesting idea, but rather hamstrings the acting possibilities. Mr and Mrs Macbeth (as my daughter calls them) are both a bit neurotic, and in general the cast are short on the traditional Shakespearean skills - most importantly, understanding the lines yourself and helping the audience to understand them. A lot of the lines feel rushed, the result of trying to a apply a more modern acting style, and overall the meditative aspect of the story is lost. But I have to say, with all its faults, I'd much rather sit through this than a camp, stagey version like the BBC one with Gandalf and M. Or, to be honest, one in broad Scauttish accents...
Yes, we have to set aside the absurdity of a macabrely significant Donalbain and a self-serving Ross, both triggered by rather desperate critical attempts to bring some fresh light on a play not in the least in need of it. These are minor aberrations and do no major damage to Polanski’s achievement. Elsewhere the imaginative daring which characterises the whole is triumphant, especially in the scene where Macbeth revisits the witches - hypnotic and totally in keeping with the spirit of the text.
I have used this film with many classes at different levels. It has gripped all, or certainly very nearly all. On a recent re-viewing I was surprised to register just how powerful the film remains. At its present price it is wonderful value.