The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971) | Did Roman Polanski’s bloody adaptation inspire TV’s Game of Thrones

The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971)

If ever there was a cinematic Shakespeare adaptation that would click with audiences today, it has to be Roman Polanski’s controversial 1971 interpretation of ‘the Scottish play’. Featuring hangings, bludgeonings, stabbings, rape, infanticide and decapitation, it’s certainly a bloody affair, but no more than you’d get in an episode of Game of Thrones. It also brings Shakespeare’s drama to vivid, believeable, life with its accessible, engaging translation of the Bard’s verse.

And this is thanks to Polanski and his co-writer, the London theatre critic, Kenneth Tynan, and a cast of young actors who speak the words in a totally naturalistic way.  These include Jon Finch (whom John Gieglud praised for his delivery) as the power-hungry chieftain Macbeth, Francesca Annis as his co-conspirator Lady Macbeth, and Martin Shaw as Banquo, the one-time friend that Macbeth murders in order to keep his unsteady crown.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971)

Adding to the film’s realism is Gilbert Taylor’s dramatic, moody photography and the striking use of the stark landscapes and real-life castles in Wales and Northumberland. Watching it today, you can’t help but compare it again with Games of Thrones, as the settings could easily be located anywhere in Westeros. And since Shakespeare’s The War of the Roses history plays are said to have been George RR Martin’s inspiration for his novels, Polanski’s masterpiece could very well have played a role in the look of the TV show.

While much of the film’s darkness could be read as Polanski’s way of dealing with the tragic murder of his wife Sharon Tate and his unborn child at the hands of the Manson Family, if his intention was to create an adaptation that captured the true essence of Shakespeare’s bleak classic tragedy then he certainly succeeded, and with an atmosphere as thick as the witches’ brew that features in one of the film’s most memorable scenes.

Boasting Anthony Mendleson’s Bafta-winning period costumes and a sparring, evocative score from Third Ear Band, this compelling modern interpretation is something very special indeed and should be required viewing for anyone studying the Bard. Thank heavens Hugh Hefner’s Playboy company came to the rescue when they did, as we’d never have this cinematic masterpiece to vent its sound and fury all over again on Blu-ray.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971)

Roman Polanski’s The Tragedy of Macbeth is out on Blu-ray as part of the first wave of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s launch of The Criterion Collection in the UK.

The director-approved edition features the 4k digital restoration of the film transferred 35mm original camera negative and a new 3.0 surround soundtrack, that was created for the US Criterion release (and it looks absoultely fantastic) and it also includes the same bonus features:

Toil and Trouble: Making Macbeth: This 60-minute 2014 documentary features Roman Polanski, producer Andrew Braunsberg, former Playboy executive Victor Lowner, and actors Martin Shaw and Francesca Annis discussing the film’s production history. Catch a sneak peek below.
Polanski Meets Macbeth: Frank Simon’s 48-min 1971 documentary is a must-see as it features Polanski and the cast and crew at work and on location.
Dick Cavett and Kenneth Tynan: An archive TV interview from 7 May, 1971.
Two Macbeths: A 31-minute segment from Aquarius (27 January 1972) in which director Polanski explains talks about his inspiration for making the film.
• Trailers


About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on April 22, 2016, in British Film, Classic, Horror, Must See, Must-See and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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