Macbeth is a 1971 film directed by Roman Polanski, based on William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Macbeth, about the Scots Lord who becomes King of Scotland through deceit, treachery, and murder. It features Jon Finch as Macbeth and Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth. For cinematic purposes, passages from the original play were cut for time and some soliloquies changed to inner monologues for the sake of psychologic realism.
The film's bleak ending is the most significant departure from Shakespeare's text. Although Malcolm is crowned as Scotland's rightful king, his concluding speech is omitted in favour of an abrupt, wordless scene showing his brother, Donalbain, returning from exile and entering the witches' lair, implying that he will seek their counsel in usurping King Malcolm like Macbeth usurped King Duncan, thus re-cycling internecine bloodshed. Throughout the story, Donalbain is shown as envious of Malcolm, perhaps even more than was Macbeth.
The ending recasts the story as a closed circuit of action — a mise en abime — suggesting that the tragedy will be repeated ad infinitum. It may explain Fleance's founding of the House of Stuart, the extinction of Duncan's line, and the historical fact of Donalbain's ultimate betrayal of his brother, King Malcolm of Scotland. The sub-plot about the English installation of Malcolm to the Scots throne is downplayed to an extent not in the original work. This is Shakespeare's implication that Fleance is the ancestor of the contemporary King James, his benefactor.
Compared to other cinematic adaptations of The Tragedy of Macbeth, the bluntly explicit violence shows Macbeth in a historical light, rather than a dramatised regicide. Nevertheless, the attitude of Polanski's Macbeth is consistent with the whole of his concern with the unstable dynamics of power and sexuality and the cynic's questioning of conventional notions of heroism and redemptive action.
The foreshadowing scene wherein Macbeth confronts the witches a second time, and is invited to gaze into their cauldron to see his future, is a cryptic, hallucinatory set piece montage: His doppelgänger warns of the dangers to hand, culminating in a surreal allegory of the eventual, dynastic triumph of Banquo's heirs — King Banquo holds a looking glass with the image of a future King Banquo holding a looking glass. This mise en abyme effect is repeated eight-fold until, ultimately, young Fleance is seen grinning and crowned in the final, eighth looking glass; an allusion to Shakespeare's original stage direction that the last Banquo appear holding a looking glass.
Her strength and sanity crumble at a horrific pace when she, at last, is aware of the inescapable nightmare she has helped create. Polanski explained this by noting that "directors always present Lady Macbeth as a nagging bitch. But people who do ghastly things in life, they are not grim, like a horror movie". In an audacious departure from Shakespearean convention, Lady Macbeth's famous sleepwalking soliloquy is performed in the nude.
Meanwhile, he set to adapting The Tragedy of Macbeth, perhaps the bloodiest work in English literature, but major Hollywood studios refused to finance it. His financial saviour was friend Victor Lownes, a senior VP of Playboy Enterprises in Britain who persuaded Hugh Hefner to finance the film. The financing was believed by some to be the reason for Lady Macbeth's nude scene; later Polanski and co-scenarist Kenneth Tynan said they had written the scene before their association with Hefner.
Macbeth was filmed on location in Snowdonia National Park, Wales, U.K., and suffered delays of bad weather and malfunctioning special effects and Polanski's insistence on filming re-takes of difficult and expensively-mounted scenes. The shoot went over schedule, ultimately taking six months to complete and exceeded its $2.5 million budget by some $600,000.
Upon theatrical release in October 1971, Macbeth received mixed critical reviews; some found the relentless explicit violence and sexuality distracting, complaining that the literal depiction was a crude, reductive interpretation of Shakespeare's poetry. Likewise, Polanski's omission of Malcolm's concluding speech, in favour of the abruptly discordant and pessimistic ending, denied the viewer solace and respite by promising a recycling of horror. Other critics, however, praised the film for its powerfully disturbing vision, and for Polanski's rigorously logical, technically brilliant and imaginatively cinematic rendering of the play's action. The U.S. National Board of Review named Macbeth the Best Film of 1971.
Director Roman Polanski distanced himself from the Playboy magazine production company during the promotion of the film. When interviewed by Sydney Edwards of the Evening Standard, he cynically remarked about his mercenary acceptance of financing from the controversial men's magazine empire. Victor Lownes felt insulted and personally betrayed by Polanski's comments and indifference to the film's commercial failure, which ultimately was a significant financial loss to Playboy. The disillusioned and humiliated Lownes ended his friendship with Polanski in bitterness and rancour, not renewing the friendship until years later, when both were disgraced men; Playboy had fired Lownes for having lost casino gambling licenses and almost bankrupting the firm; Polanski, fugitive from U.S. law after his conviction for statutory rape in Los Angeles, California, in 1977, and fleeing to Paris before his final sentencing.