Monday, 26 November 2012

Modern Movie Retellings of Macbeth

Proof, if proof were needed, that Macbeth is an enduring and timeless play, there have been a huge number of adaptations over the years. 

These films place the action of the play in various weird and wonderful corners of the world and in a variety of eras. Here is just a handful of the most popular:

Scotland, PA is a dark comedy
adaptation of Macbeth

Scotland, PA (2001)

Set in 1970s Scotland, Pennsylvania, the film is a dark comedy take on Macbeth, which centres around a greasy spoon called Duncan’s Café. 

Joe ‘Mac’ McBeth (Macbeth) works at the fast food restaurant and is passed over for promotion by his boss Norm Duncan (Duncan) in favour of Douglas McKenna (Macdonwald), who is embezzling money from the restaurant.

Three hippies (the witches) claim to be able to see the future and predict that Joe will be manager of a drive-thru style restaurant.

Joe and his wife, Pat (Lady Macbeth), reveal McKenna’s dodgy bookkeeping practices and Joe is swiftly promoted to manager. Joe and Pat then concoct a plan to kill Norm in a faked robbery. 

Throne of Blood | Macbeth
with Samurai warriors

Throne of Blood (1957)

A Japanese film, Kumonosu-jō literally translates as Spider Web Castle. Directed by Akira Kurosawa, Throne of Blood takes Shakespeare’s play and shifts it to feudal Japan.

Macbeth is Washizu, a Samurai general under Lord Tsuzuki. Washizu encounters a spirit who foretells his future.

When he hears that he will become lord, Washizu and his wife kill Tsuzuki, and Washuki gains the title.

But, just like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Washizu’s troubles are only just beginning. 

Joe Macbeth sets Shakespeare's masterpiece in
1930s America

Joe Macbeth (1955)

Directed by Ken Hughes and starring Paul Douglas and Ruth Roman, Joe Macbeth is a gangster movie, set in 1930s America.

The ‘gangster’ genre is, I would argue, an ideal setting for Macbeth as it is a perfect modern slant on the dog-eat-dog world of 11th century monarchy.

In this adaptation, Joe Macbeth is convinced by his wife, Lilly, to murder the reigning kingpin and take charge himself.

The plan works like a dream, until Lennie (Macduff), a fellow mobster whose wife and children have been murdered by Joe, catches up with the new ‘king’.

Macbeth is in da club! Rave Macbeth

Rave Macbeth (2001)

Rave Macbeth is a German production, which is a much looser adaptation than those already mentioned. That said, the premise is unmistakably Macbeth.

Set in the world of dance music and raves, Marcus, played by Michael Rosenbaum (of Smallville fame), is fighting for superiority among a gang of drug dealers.

Things come to a head when Marcus’ girlfriend, Lidia, helps him gain the upper hand.

Men of Respect gives us a Macbeth of
the 90s, who listens to the insights
of a spiritualist. 

Men of Respect (1990)

Directed and written by William Reilly, Men of Respect is another gangsteresque Macbeth and centres around a hitman, Mike Battaglia (played by the very talented John Turturro), who listens to the prophecies of a spiritualist.

The spiritualist foresees that Mike will become the head of his ‘family’, so he sets about killing to get there, being sure to shift the blame elsewhere.

He eventually rises to a position of power, but soon realises there are consequences.


For me, it is fascinating to watch these adaptations and compare them to Shakespeare’s original. However, if you’re studying Macbeth, it is not advisable to see a modern interpretation and nothing else. While it might give you a feel for the play, many aspects will differ. 

Moreover, you’re missing out on the wonderful language of Shakespeare, which is, let’s be honest, what has made him such an enduring figure in drama and literature. Shakespeare’s storylines were good, but the way he told those stories was even better.

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

1 comment:

  1. wow, that's amazing. Two more to the list Vishal Bharadwaj's Maqbool and Jayaraj's Veeram' two Indian films. :)