Roman Polanski, director
Macbeth is in some ways the most philosophical of the Shakespeare plays. Hamlet is very introspective, but Macbeth as a whole can be treated almost as though it were a psychological event. In many ways what is unsaid is as imoprtant as what is said. When Macbeth first meets the witches is he surprised by their prophecies because of what they are , or because he has already thought them himself and is surprised that they see "into him". Does the scene in which Lady Macbeth reads the letter contain innuendoes that she too knows that what has been prophesied has already been thought and discussed.
Clearly one of the problems to be handled is Macbeth's deterioration into the butchering murderer from a reasonably honest character who in some way still has some sympathy from the audience.
Another problem deals with the supernaturalism and occult events in the play which can become overpowering in the hands of a director who is perhaps more interested in effects and spectacle than the internal problems of the characters trajectory or path.
The Polansky version contrasts well with the McKellen one. Polanski stresses the spectacle, the supernatural and a certain amount of pagentry. The McKellen version is more intimate and the focus is much stronger on the characters.
Visually they contrast as well, with Polanski using very wide screen aspects with deep focus large shots of battle fields and processions to and from the castles.
The McKellen version is almost entirely in close up. There is a greater emphasis on the Scottish nature of the story with rampant lions, standing stones (which are not uniquely Scottish), and images of the Stone of Destiny or the Stone of Scone one which Scottish kings were said to be crowned. These are all missing in the McKellen version. The Orson Welles version is VERY Scottish indeed.
The play is one of the bloodiest of the Shakespeare plays. Macbeth says:
"It will have blood, they say: blood will
...I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er.
And the blood certainly does flow - but just how much of it to show is something each director must decide.
In this Macbeth gore is very evident. We see the execution of the Thane of Cawdor, the murder of Duncan, the bodies of the slain servants, the violent murder of Banquo, the murder MacDuff children, and the body of Lady Macbeth on the ground. After Macbeth is beheaded, his severed head is carried therough the crowd and we see the crowd - without sound - from the point of view of Macbeth's eyes, implying there is still some function in the head.
All the psychological halluciantions - the dagger of the mind, Banquo's ghost and even blood spots on Lady Macbeth's hand in the sleepwalking scene are all visible to the audience.
This is an example of stressing the gore of story, yet there might be something to be said about holding it back - at least initially. Remember that Cawdor is executed through no doing of Macbeth. This occurs off stage (as opposed to on screen in this version). Duncan's murder is also off stage as is the killing of the grooms. Hence as the "prophecy" is fulfilled, the murders are not visible to the audience. The first murder we actually see is Banquo's which is not part of the prophecy. We aer told that Banquo will not be a king and his children will be, but there is no mention of his murder. Ina sense, as long as the killings are in association with and validating the prophecy we don't see them. Once they start to occur in an attempt to alter the prohecy they become visible to the audience. Hence as Macbeth begins his trajectory to destruction, the gore on stage begins to increase. In this film, there is a strong tendency not t wait but start right out on the battle field showing violence and not giving it a chance to grow with the evil.
The play contains a number of other problems which have been raised over the years by a number of scholars:
How fatalistic is the play? Everything the witches promise comes true - including Banquo's children becoming kings. Surely this is not something that Macbeth had thought about before the meeting with the witches. There is a good deal of discussion about things not being able to be changed. "Wake Duncan with thy knocking. I would thou couldst" (II.2.75-76). "Things without all remedy should be without regard" (II.2.11-12) "What's done cannot be undone" (V.i.70)
Who is the third murderer and why is he introduced?
Does Macbeth have in him some tragic flaw which is there from the beginning and that he has thought about becoming king before meeting the witches?
Why does Banquo suspect Macbeth has come by his position as king most foully? After all, he knows the prophecy and knows that Macbeth came to be Cawdor without doing anything. Is there an implication that perhaps even Banquo is thinking along similar lines about advancing his claims. Banquo is very honest and ays he is only interested in gaining honor if he lose none. The film produces a youngish Macbeth and his wife who are reasonably attractive and obviously sexually attracted to each other. The amount of "sexxuality" in this film is greater than any of the others.There is more nudity with the witches and for Lady Macbeth in the sleepwalking scene. Given the numberous refereences to sleeping gowns is it reasonable to have Lady Macbeth nude in the sleepwalking scene?