Wednesday, 12 September 2012

What did Roman Polanski do With Macbeth?

Roman Polanski's adaptation of Macbeth
is a dark and brutally violent work 

Last week, I took a gander at Orson Welles' adaptation of Macbeth. This week we'll delve into an even darker version of the play. Roman Polanski's Macbeth is gritty, gruesome and grim.

Additionally, there's a rather dark personal tale surrounding Polanski's adaptation, which can't have failed to influence the director's work.

Events Surrounding Roman Polanski's Adaptation of Macbeth

Roman Polanski’s 1971 version of Macbeth, starring Jon Finch and Francesca Annis, is a disturbing version of Shakespeare's work, with what was, for the time, very graphic violence and nudity.

And while Macbeth is undeniably a dark play, the tone of Polanski’s version is undoubtedly coloured by the death of his wife, Sharon Tate, and a group of friends, who were all murdered by members of the Manson Cult. This harrowing event occurred just months before Polanski began working on the film.

Differences Between Polanksi's Macbeth and Shakespeare's

Although Macbeth is a violent play, much of it is implied
or happens off-stage - not so for Polanksi.
Like any adaptation, there are differences between Polanksi’s Macbeth and Shakespeare’s. In terms of the overall tone, the brutality of the Polanksi's film (with the inclusion of Duncan's murder, which occurs off-stage in Shakespeare's version) is quite stark.

In addition, although the closing scene of Shakespeare's Macbeth is no song-and-dance number, Polanski offers an incredibly bleak and almost nihilistic ending.

However, most noticeable is Polanski’s interpretation of Ross, who in the play is a pretty insignificant character, one who, let’s be honest, could be removed. Polanksi, however, turns him into a much more relevant character; an amoral opportunist, who becomes Macbeth’s henchman and accomplice, but, eventually, betrays him.

Critical Reception of Roman Polanski's Macbeth

Initial reception to the film was mixed, with some feeling that the gruesome violence, especially in regard to the murder of Macduff’s wife and children, was unnecessarily brutal and a deliberate reference to the Manson murders.

Polanski's Macbeth is an unapologetic display of
all that is ugly in humanity.
Nevertheless, there were and still are those who believe that the chilling movie is a masterful adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.

No matter what you think of Roman Polanski, it cannot be denied that the movie is wonderfully atmospheric and beautifully shot.

Perhaps it simplifies the play too greatly, reducing it to a basic message: “the world is a pretty ugly place and everybody’s a bitch”, rather than the more complex introspective work of Shakespeare, but it’s a good film nonetheless.

If you'd like to learn more about Shakespeare's Macbeth and modern adaptations of the play, be sure to take a look at What's It All About, Shakespeare? A Guide to Macbeth.


  1. Macbeth is a babe.

    1. Jon Finch as Macbeth or the character regardless of who's playing him? There's certainly something attractive about a successful, ambitious man who knows what he wants and goes after it - Lady Macbeth undoubtedly finds that sexy.

    2. so i am studying this for school and then i see this lol wtf

    3. You don't think he's a babe? ; )