Ranking: #97/111

Director: Roman Polanski (Poland)

Genre: Shakespearean Drama

Faithful to the play, this is an epic version of Shakespeare’s bloodthirsty tale of evil ambition and the destruction it can bring. It is an intense, evocative adaption of a macabre play which lends itself to Polanski’s blended use of stark realism and surrealistic film imagery by which the director conveys, in substantial detail, a world turned upside down by wickedness, in which “fair is foul, foul is fair” (Macbeth Act 1, Scene i) and “nothing is, but what is not” (Act 1, Scene iii).

With the help of a brooding, commanding performance by Jon Finch as Macbeth, Polanski does justice to the depth of Shakespeare’s insights into how evil can undo the very manhood of the play’s tragic hero. The film vividly displays his descent into hell.

Particularly brilliant is the use of Macbeth’s monologues from the play, conveyed in a voice over in a melodious but self-doubting, almost sorrowful, tone. The atmosphere of growing doom is framed from the beginning by the witches’ prophecies: as each one comes true, one by one, the fate of the central character seems almost predestined. The artistic unity of the film is achieved through the perfect balancing of the interior world of Macbeth’s mind and the setting’s moody exteriors.

In taking a great Shakespearean tragedy and turning it into a living film, bristling with mood, meaning and powerful imagery, rather than being “canned theatre” as such, Polanski has created a genuine work of cinematic art. It must rank as one of the very best adaptations of a Shakespearean play.