Starring Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw, and Terence Bayler.
Directed by Roman Polanski
The Short, Short Version:
Finch is MacBeth, the Scottish Thane of Glam who happens upon three witches who tell him that he’ll be the new Thane of Cawdor as well as the King of Scotland. Next thing he knows he IS the Thane of Cawdor as well but once King Duncan’s son Malcolm is crowned Prince MacBeth is less about redemption and more about retribution as he kills Duncan and becomes King. Following the Despot’s Guide to Complete Rule he sets to murder anyone else who may be able to claim the throne from him. One last trip to the witches gives him the prophecy, “… till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane,” which boggles and infuriates him but faster than you can say, “Ides of March,” MacBeth is overturned and beheaded.
Why This Made the 40:
In what also feels a lifetime ago it was a pick by my high school senior English teacher, Mr. Gleaves. Usually Shakespeare’s stuff feels stilted (c’mon… how many times do you use “thane,” or “thee,” or thou sayest?” without some sense of mockery?) but watching it on a 13” TV suspended from the ceiling I was transfixed. This was what Shakespeare was at its core – dark, bloody, gritty, dirty, and violent. I would later happen upon the reason for that – Polanski directed the movie following the murder of his wife, model Sharon Tate. For those of you who don’t know Polanski was in a relationship with Tate who, on a certain fateful night, became a victim of slaying by the followers of Charles Manson. Manson sent his followers to a house that was initially owned by a certain record producer who Manson wanted dead but was since sold to another person. Manson’s followers didn’t know the difference and murdered everyone there. Polanski, grief-stricken, decided to plunge himself back into his work. Playboy owner and founder Hugh Hefner, feeling sorry for the death of Tate, assisted in bankrolling/producing the movie. Polanski’s hurt, anger, pain, and rage are reflected in the film and, knowing that, gives a context to the violence on screen. I recommend this film not as a celebration of a tragedy but as a darkly personal catharsis wrapped in a Shakespearean tragedy. It’s not the grass on the ground but the dirt and worms underneath. Forget any of the Hammer film sets or anything Kenneth Branagh put out – this is the must watch.