The Tragedy of Macbeth (1981)

Genres - Theater  |   Sub-Genres - Filmed Play, Tragedy  |   Run Time - 150 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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The Tragedy of Macbeth is a somewhat uneven filming of one of Shakespeare's greatest plays. A great deal of the problem comes simply from the fact that this is essentially a "point the camera and shoot" adaptation of a stage production, albeit filmed without an audience. This kind of approach is laudable for its faithfulness to the text and often for capturing performances that would otherwise go unrecorded. But it also can make for viewing that includes very little that is visually interesting. In the case of this Macbeth, it also results in a very hollow, distanced production; rarely does the audience actually come to feel anything for Macbeth or Lady Macbeth, two characters who should grab the audience and keep them enthralled throughout. The performances of Jeremy Brett and Piper Laurie also suffer a bit from this approach; live, they were probably gripping, but here they occasionally lose the audience, especially when declaiming in a style that suits the theater but does not translate well to film. Still, there are undeniable highlights from the pair, including the "is this a dagger" speech, the banquet scene, and the "tomorrow and tomorrow" monologue. Simon MacCorkindale is a good Macduff, Barry Primus an excellent Banquo, and the Witches are used very effectively throughout. Despite its flaws, the wonderful source material and a great deal of the leads' performances make this a worthwhile, if up-and-down, effort.