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Friday, 19 April 2013

Classic Film Review: Macbeth (1948)

This adaptation of Macbeth stars Orson Welles as the title character with support from Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth, Dan O'Herlihy as Macduff and Roddy McDowall as Malcolm. Welles also directed and apparently altered some things, assigning speeches to other characters etc. I must admit that it's been a good ten years since I read or saw Macbeth so I can't be sure what he changed but it doesn't make a difference to the plot and sequence of events.

By use of a sparse set, the film is very stagey and claustrophobic. There is also an intelligent use of light and shadow, though it becomes too shadowy at times. The entire film is a bleak spectacle, just the way Macbeth should be. The use of a stone staircase as the centrepiece was exceptionally useful, offering background for pivotal scenes such as Lady Macbeth waiting for her husband to return from Duncan's room and, later, her own sleepwalking being observed by onlookers.

As far as performances go, Orson Welles is very good as Macbeth, specifically in the scene after the murder and Banquo's ghost scene. But I was entranced by Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth, particularly in her extended scene while Macbeth is away in Duncan's room but, really, throughout the piece. She doesn't overplay the character at pivotal points and therefore comes across as a little more nuanced than other interpretations I've seen. Dan O'Herlihy was an excellent Macduff, especially in his family news scene, but I had difficulty with Roddy McDowall's Macolm - I can't work out whether it was the character or the portrayal I had a problem with.

Naturally, the story is cut a little to make the transition from stage to film. The transition also means that passages of time which would have seemed more 'real' on stage are lost by the camera focusing on a point until the actors come back on stage. I suspect, too, that some of the scenes cut or trimmed would've helped solve this problem.

Overall, a very good adaptation with two excellent leads. A static film but no worse for it.

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