Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

Wri/Dir: Joel Coen | Cast: Frances McDormand, Denzel Washington, Alex Hassell, Bertie Carvel, Brendan Gleeson, Moses Ingram, Kathryn Hunter | US drama, 107’

This elegantly crisp version of Shakespeare’s Scottish play already looks like a modern classic, a cross between Dreyer’s Ordet and Ken Russel’s The Devils thanks to Oscar hopefuls Bruno Delbonnel, Stefan Dechant, and Nancy Haigh who have created a magnificent yet pared-down spectacle that manages to retain the intimacy of the stage.

Joel Cohen’s first solo outing behind the camera stars his wife Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth and Denzel Washington in the main role. Both bring a heady contemplative quality to the murderous machiavellian couple, but the standout is Kathryn Hunter who trebles up as The Witches in a particularly haunting performance that feels otherworldly but jester-like. A conspiracy of ravens give an inspired and deeply terrifying touch. MT



Shakespeare Wallah (1965) **** Bluray

Dir.: James Ivory; Cast: Shashi Kapoor, Felicity Kendall, Madhur Jaffrey, Geoffrey Kendall, Laura Liddell, Jennifer Kapoor; India 1965, 115 min.

This is the second feature of writer/director James Ivory and producer Merchant Ivory, co-scripted by the latter’s wife Ruth Prawar Jhabvala; the trio would go on with opulent productions like Heat and Dust and Howard’s End, describing the fate of strong women in male-dominated, authoritarian societies.

This is about change and belonging: The Buckingham parents Tony (G. Kendall) and Carla (Liddell) tour India with a travelling group of players, including their daughter Lizzie (F. Kendall),  bringing Shakespeare to a country changed beyond belief after the British left for home. But the change is not only a cultural one; Indians are saying goodbye to their own heritage in a post-colonial era that replaced Shakespeare with Bollywood and old palaces of Maharajas with hotels. Lizzie, who plays Ophelia and Desdemona on stage, falls for Indian playboy Sanju (Kapoor), who also has a mistress: Bollywood actress Manjula (Jaffrey). While the Buckinghams and their plays become more and more tacky, Manjula represents a modern India, which is aggressively taking the place of the old – be it Indian or British. Manjula commits a faux-pas on purpose: she arrives at the theatre with only ten minutes of Othello to go. But the nomadic players have no recourse, they are redundant in a country where they don’t belong any more. They are rootless, like Ruth Wilcox in Howard’s End. “Everything is different when you belong to a place. When it’s yours’, says Carla Buckingham wistfully. Her daughter has never set foot on her “home” country.

Kendall’s and Lidell’s experience with their own touring company have been an inspiration for the feature, stage and reality overlap. When Tony (as Othello) talks endlessly to himself, before facing Desdemona for a last time and in the real world, Manjura enters with aplomb. Finally, with Feste’s song in “Twelfth Night”, the “rain raineth”everything away, it becomes not only a summing up for the play, but the fate of the actors, swept away by history.

The misty black and white images express the evocative fragility of the narrative, there is much to admire, apart from the acting – Madhur Jaffrey would win the Prize for Best Actress at Berlin Film Festival in 1965. The score is by none less than Satyajit Ray. His long-time collaborator, DoP Subrata Mitra, conjures up sensitive images of a  group of Thespians who are lost, languidly suffering a maudlin nightmare. Ironically, Shashi Kapoor’s marriage to Felicity Kendall’s sister Jennifer (who made an uncredited appearance) was one of long-lasting happiness until her death aged 50. AS



Macbeth (1971) | Criterion Collection UK

Director: Roman Polanski | Writers: Kenneth Tynan/Roman Polanski

Cast: Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw, Terence Bayler, Nicholas Selby, Stephan Chase

140min  Drama

Who better to direct The Tragedy of Macbeth than Roman Polanski, bringing his customary nihilism to the famous Scottish play: his is an ambitious production but not amongst his best, despite collaboration from Kenneth Tynan on the script. The action opens on a desolate shoreline where young nobleman Macbeth (Jon Finch) is returning from battle, three witches are seen casting their spells in the watery half light of a wintery dusk.  The locations were infact Porthmadog and Northumberland but they absolutely conjure up the essence of the story. Most of film is set in dank and dripping moorland or inside shivering castles where the additional effect of howling winds add to the sense of unease – not even blazing open fires can warm this cruel and hopeless saga. Polanski, deeply effected by the recent violent murder of his lover Sharon Tate, clearly made his film more violent than the play (lines such as “Untimely ripped from his mother’s womb” seem particularly cruel and apt) but it could equally have echoed his experiences in Krakow. In any event, Polanski was always going to make a grisly rendering of Shakespeare’s brutal masterpiece. This is very much Polanski’s version: he added a final scene, a variation from the Shakespeare play – where Donalbain is seen skulking off to the Witches’ hideout. This is the sting in the tail, the classic Polanski unhappy ending; offering no hope for redemption. The use of a discordant score from the folk band Third Ear and Gil Taylor’s stunningly photographed scenic set pieces add grim redolence to proceedings and the siege scenes are particularly evocative of doom. Casting off screen lovers Francesca Annis and Jon Finch as the Macbeths, their dark good looks and chemistry permeate the drama. A superb performance from Francesca Annis makes it easy to see how a man can be led to his demise by his own inflated ego and the sexual obsession for a woman who feeds his lust for power (and indeed, her own), as she does as Lady Macbeth here.

In the event, neither of these characters possesses the moral fibre consistent with their regal stature: and this is why the story so perfectly fits into Polanski’s body of work: the professionals seen wanting, brought down by their own petty insecurities. Macbeth is seen as a figure worthy of disdain, a man hoisted by his own petard; a ‘falling King’, rather than a ‘fallen’ one. The film was not a commercial success, and although capable and atmospheric, lacks the precision and perfection of his earlier works, Knife in The Water and Repulsion. MT


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