Final Thoughts on Teaching “Macbeth”: The Films

We’re finally done with “Macbeth” in my 10th grade classes. Students will be taking their midterms soon, so in preparation for them, and to give them a break from regular studying, we’ve been watching different “Macbeth” films. Here’s what I ended up showing, along with my takes on each. And seriously, if you haven’t watched the old Roman Polanski “Macbeth,” it’s well worth your time.

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The final fight between Macbeth and Macduff (in the background) is amazing

So I showed almost all of the ROMAN POLANSKI film (“Macbeth 1971”). It is terrific. It’s also the bloodiest Shakespeare film I have ever seen, which is good, because tragic Shakespeare films should be bloody. The exciting parts have great choreography, and the sensible editing and Steadicam are appreciated, i.e. this film is more like John Wick and less like Transformers when people are fighting. But enough focus on the very-warranted action—”Macbeth 1971″ breaks up long monologues with images and reaction shots, which too many Shakespeare plays don’t do, so this is truly a film and not a play. The acting is good. The sets and costumes are terrific. And the witches are both incredibly creepy and spend a large part of the movie nude. This not a film to show in its entirety, but still one worth watching!

Great Performances
No, no gore in this movie

The PATRICK STEWART version (“Macbeth 2010”) is great because it’s so different. This is “Macbeth” told with a WWII setting, and with Macbeth-the-character figured as Stalin. The period uniforms and giant propaganda posters evoke Russia perfectly, as do the credits in the play, which are in faux-Cyrillic. This film has high production values, despite being a made-for-TV movie, and the modern guns and tanks and other WWII technology help keep student interest. Also, the witches in this version are nurses, and the way they cast spells with IV bags of blood and through surgery is a great touch. Also, their famous “Double, double, toil and trouble” scene is a rap shot in the style of a “Effervescence” music video. So it’s the best of the early 2000s here, and I appreciate the effort.

Judi Dench actress Ian McKellen in play Macbeth
So young!

The IAN MCKELLEN and JUDI DENCH version (“Macbeth 1979”) is a filmed play. Since that means it is just people in costumes on a black stage it doesn’t hold student interest long, but both McKellen and Dench are good stellar, and Dench by far the best Lady Macbeth I have ever seen. Also, though it is hard recognize him, Ian McDiarmid is in this version. Students never recognize his face, but the moment he starts talking they realize they’ve seen him before—as the Emperor/Senator Palpatine from Star Wars. So that’s a fun touch. Is this version hard to show in its entirety? Just don’t watch this version for anything else but the monologues, as all together it even bores me to tears. Seeing long recitations on a blank stage is fun in person. On film, however, it’s a slog.

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I think the Braveheart vibes are pretty purposeful

So what don’t I show? To be honest, I haven’t seen the newest cinematic version of “Macbeth,” starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard (“Macbeth 2015”). It has stellar reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and I think both actors are superb, so I’ll be watching them in the future. In the meantime, I think I’ve had enough “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’s” and “Out, damned spots” for 2018, so it’s curtains down until 2019 for Shakespeare. Cheers!

–Jeff and Leah

Past “Macbeth” posts

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Seriously, this version is a crack up

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