Macbeth Movie Madness, Semifinal: Welles v. Stewart

As you (should) know (by now), we’re doing a March Madness-bracket style review of the many video adaptations of Macbeth. We’ve finished the first round and now we’re down to the final four…and today’s first semifinal match-up:


the 1948 film, directed by and starring Orson Welles (the #7 seed)
the 2010 film, directed by Rupert Goold with Patrick Stewart (the #3 seed)

So, how did we get here?

The Orson Welles film first beat a fairly lackluster video capture of 2013 stage production starring David Morrissey, then upset the number 2 seed, the BBC Complete Works film from 1983 with Nicol Williamson. Meanwhile, the Goold film, based on his stage production with Patrick Stewart, absolutely slaughtered a 1981 version that quite frankly was too stagey and too broad for its own good; then Stewart knocked off Kenneth Branagh’s stage production from 2014, captured live in New York.

Of Welles’ Shakespearean acting ouvre, I think this is his best (directorially, of course, I may have to give the edge–a slight edge–to his incredible Chimes at Midnight, his conflation of the Henriad, shot through the prism of Falstaff’s perspective). It’s very experimental, with great manipulation of the text to fit his needs (showing the contrast between pagan and early Christian influences; low budget/short shooting schedule; a focus on Macbeth–Welles was nothing if not self-confident).

I really like this version, from its bizarre opening with the witches over the cauldron from Act Four, creating a totem of Macbeth that will be used throughout the play, to the bizarre mix of costuming (Mongols? Vikings? Turks?), to the use of a stationary camera and deep focus.

Of course, it wouldn’t have made it to this semifinal if it wasn’t good. The only problem is that the Goold film is great. Period. Stop message.

Stewart: masterful. Fleetwood: lithe and slinky (even out-slinking Welles’ leading lady Jeannette Nolan). The setting: makes sense both visually and historically. Camera-work and sound: wonderfully evocative. Despite one of the weirder banquet scenes we’ve seen (including musical chairs?), it’s the complete package.

Goold’s film is the one that makes it out of its side of the bracket.

Let’s see who the opponent is with tomorrow’s Fassbender/McKellen match-up!


Updated bracket: JPG | PDF

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