#134: Roman Polanski’s Macbeth
A reasonably faithful adaptation of the Shakespeare classic — too bad it’s by Roman Polanski
Initial release: October 13, 1971
Director: Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski is a child rapist. He also made what’s among the most faithful adaptation of Macbeth, Shakespeare’s classic tale of murder and madness, and though Shakespeare can be difficult to translate to film, he nailed it. Both of these facts can be true, and that’s the frustrating thing.
Controversy comes easily with a director who’s not above sexually assaulting a teenage girl. Macbeth was no different; it was a commercial failure, derided by critics as being too focused on sex and violence. By 1971 standards, that’s probably true. That said, there isn’t all that much nudity, aside from Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking in the nude (based on research that showed that people of the era slept nude, anyway) and a brief shot of a preteen boy taking a bath, which seems less innocent now given Polanski’s later crimes. As far as violence, while there are brief shots of gore and the occasional overdose of Tabasco-color blood, by today’s standards it’s pretty tame, though a scene where Macduff’s family and servants are murdered doesn’t shy away from rape, much like Polanski didn’t in March 1977.
Another controversial issue, though not as controversial as Polanski’s 1978 statutory rape conviction and subsequent flight to Europe to avoid punishment, is the fact that the film was funded by Playboy, of all things. Some feel Playboy played an undue role in the film. And sure, there’s an element of that; nudity was still controversial even by the early 1970s, at which point the Hays code had well and truly been thrown in the trash, much like should be done to Roman Polanski. But, at least in the Lady Macbeth scene, I think it makes sense.
The genius of this film is how it turns the usual portrayal of Macbeth and his wife on its head. Both are played by relatively young actors; Macbeth, far from being a shrewd noble, is now just a scared kid pushed into something he didn’t really want — sounds familiar. Of course, Macbeth isn’t entirely innocent, as he gets wrapped up deeper and deeper into keeping the impulsive conspiracy secret, and his descent into madness is reinforced through violence and some truly amazing hallucination sequences.
There’s a lot to like about this film, despite the fact that its director is now probably more famous for his crime than his films. It strives for accuracy, the cast are all great, the cinematography brings new life to what was originally written for stage. Macbeth’s visit with the witches alone is worth the watch.
There’s a few Macbeth adaptations out there, some of them sacrificing accuracy in favor of forging their own vibe (Throne of Blood being perhaps the most well-known example) but if you want to see Macbeth as Shakespeare might have envisioned it, you might as well watch the child molester’s version.
In conclusion, fuck Roman Polanski.