A couple of weeks ago, I introduced the way we’re going to review videos of Macbeth: a March Madness-style bracket with the fifteen immediately accessible versions. And today we have our sixth and penultimate first-round Bard battle:
the 2006 film, directed by Geoffrey Wright with Sam Worthington and Victoria Hill (the #13 seed)
the 1971 film, directed by Roman Polanski with John Finch and Francesca Annis (the #4 seed)
Polanski’s version, I want to say, was the first I saw back in my early UCLA days (it might had been Welles’ but I’m pretty sure it was this one). I remember having a pretty ambivalent response to it. Finch makes for a solid Scot and Annis a hot Lady, and I remember noting how it was great that this couple was a young one, one that you could imagine getting caught in making decisions rashly, leading to tragedy. But something just felt off.
My feeling now is even more ambivalent. There are aspects to this film that I absolutely love. Making the character of Ross a more integral part of the plot is wonderful, and not just because it gives us one more character to focus on…making him a kind of political suck-up and fixer (including him on the murders of Banquo and Macduff) is a distinctly cynical view of human nature. Polanski’s rearrangement of text is very inventive in the first half of the film.
But… its inventiveness dies off midway through. And some of Polanski’s other touches border on the laughable: Donalbain becoming a kind of Richard III-esque plotter, limping and even going to the witches in the film’s coda; a naked wiches’ coven (if the witches had been better looking, I’d say this is an effect of having Hugh Hefner as an executive producer); and the voice-overs for soliloquies just doesn’t work (at least not for me).
So the door is left open for a big upset here…
Geoffrey Wright’s 2006 Australian adaptation (like the Polish-language version from our last film fight) is set in a present-day low-level mob world. We meet the witches as school uniformed teens vandalizing a graveyard. And these thanes are seen in video surveillance, and in quieter moments drinking and taking drugs.
Wright does some very interesting things with the script: some of the soliloquies are turned into dialogues, some dialogue given to different characters (Lady Macbeth, for example, covers for Macbeth after he kills the guards with the “Who can be…” speech), rearranges entire scenes, and cuts Banquo from the witches’ scene altogether (the witches tell Macbeth of Banquo’s future as well for some reason, even in Banquo’s absence).
In this version, Lady Macbeth is suicidal from the start. It almost feels like Macbeth tells her of the prophecy to give her a reason to live, which is an interesting take. So, too, is idea of having Banquo’s ghost choke Macbeth at the banquet; trying to fight him off, looks like he’s choking himself, which was different.
Not all of this “difference” was positive, however. Making the warning of the witches come with a drug-induced fantasy, complete with nude witches, was a bit much. The the attempt to make the battles John Woo-lite bullet ballets did not work. And moving the “Tomorrow and tomorrow…” to the end as a voice-over? No. Please.
It’s an ambivalent call, but I’m actually going to go with the audacious upstart Wright/Worthington version.
We’ve only got one more first-round bout (remember, the Nunn/McKellen got a bye)…Coming up next: David Morrissey vs. Orson Welles.