The opening shot of a yellow, withering moonscape stretching away to infinity - revealed to be a desolate sea-shore on which the three witches proceed to the ritual burial of a noose, a severed arm and a dagger - effortlessly establishes the cold, barbarous climate of Shakespeare's play. Polanski's imagery, evoking a characteristically cruel, irrational and blood-boltered world, is often magnificently strange and hieratic: the death of the Thane of Cawdor, for instance, hanged by way of a massive iron collar and chain from a high tower in a courtyard ringed by cloaked soldiers; or the almost pagan ritual of Macbeth's coronation, starting with his bare feet stepping into the huge footprints embedded in the sacred stone. The relative weakness is that Polanski's evident desire to elicit understated, naturalistic performances from his cast also underplays the poetry of the play, which as a result never quite spirals into dark, uncontrollable nightmare as the Welles version (for all its faults) does.
Cast and crew
Roman Polanski, Kenneth Tynan