Screen Macbeths

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In this piece of work I hope to compare three different screen versions of the witches scene on video. The first was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production directed by Trevor Nunn (1978), it was filmed from a stage production. The second was the film directed by Roman Polanski (1971) and was made for cinema. Last and by most means least was the Thames video collection version, directed by Charles Warren (1988) and was made for television.

Macbeth: The Royal Shakespeare Company.

The scene opens with a zoom in to the stage floor from directly above it. There is atmospheric music, played on a church organ with some flat sounding notes that, to me, indicates presence. Once the camera has stopped zooming, the characters appear from the outside of the stage casting strange shadows across the stage. The camera then pans across all the characters, after this lengthy process is over, the king comes out from the ring of actors and kneels on the floor and prays, then from the circle appear the 3 witches. One of the witches seems to be having some kind of fit and the other witches seem to be encouraging it, near the end of the fit the witch begins to give out information to the other two witches as though the fit gives her information, after each segment of spasmic knowledge the other two witches seem to be surprised. On the last line “Fair is foul and foul is fair….”, the witches are out of sync and that makes me think that they are getting the speech from somewhere else. The costumes were good but they looked more like costumes than clothes. The lighting was atmospheric and it went well with the slow moving camera. I found this scene slightly too long and dragged out but it was performed well. Hardly any props or sound effects were used.

Macbeth: Film by Roman Polanski

The film opens with a shot of a colourful sunrise across a beach and continues to show a whole day in speeded up film before the witches appear indicating the witches live out of time. The film is on location therefore indicates a bigger budget than the Royal Shakespeare Company’s version. Before the speech the witches carry out a strange ritual in which they bury a noose with a severed hand with a dagger in its palm, the hand is very realistic but it is obvious that it is still attached to the owner as you never see the all of the hand and its owner is probably off screen out of the cameras way. When the witches’ faces are shown, they are not the stereotypical witches that you see in cartoons and fairy tales, they just look like old hags. Sound effects are not utilised greatly in this scene because silence goes very well with the rest of the scene and together they create an eerie atmosphere. The costumes are very good because they are also not stereotypical “witch” clothes; they just look like the clothes of an old peasant hag. The way the witches are portrayed indicates a very supernatural presence about them. I think that this version of the scene is great and I enjoyed it because of the eerie atmosphere that the witches generate.

Macbeth: Thames video collection directed by Charles Warren

This scene starts with two doors opening to an outdoor scene where three black silhouettes perched before a green background and a dead, withered tree. The sound effects are wind and thunder but no rain. When the lights come up the camera zooms to the poorly costumed and badly made up witches. The costumes are green and ragged with mud rubbed on them; they seem to be from the earth. The make up matches the costumes in that it is green and brown as though the actresses have been rolling in the mud. When the actresses begin to recite their lines that they seem to have learned too well, it seems as though the vigorous way in which they are saying them has battered the life and meaning from the words. The rocks in the background look as though they have been made out of papier mache, and it is so obvious that this film was shot in a studio next to blankety blank.


Out of all of the versions I preferred the Roman Polanski version because it generated the most atmosphere and made me want to watch, also it was the closest to what was in my head after reading the scene. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s version was good but the lengthy panning shot was slightly boring and unnecessary. The Thames video collection version was my least favourite as it the way the lines were spoken was ridiculous and it was almost like a joke and I can think of nothing that I could compliment it on. The thing that made the Roman Polanski version good was the atmosphere that the lack of sound effects caused.

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