Few directors have touched the level of quality achieved by Roman Polanski in the last half-century of cinema, In spite of his, shall we say, tainted reputation. The man whose life was marred by a childhood spent in Nazi-occupied Poland, the murder of his wife Sharon Tate and his notorious rape case and subsequent exile has also given us some of the most memorable films of all time, including “Knife in the Water,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and “Chinatown” among others. One of Polanski’s most overlooked and visually ravishing pictures is his adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth.” The film —an uncharacteristically violent and grim period piece— was released in the aftermath of his wife’s gruesome murder and has since been lovingly restored by the great folks at Criterion, who have also commissioned stellar releases of many of Polanski’s cruel, darkly amusing early films (“Cul de Sac,” “Repulsion”) and also “Rosemary’s Baby”.
A new five-minute video interview with Polanski and some cast members sheds fascinating light on the production of the film —particularly Polanski’s conception as such and the thought that went into casting. Polanski speaks of how the Bard’s iconic use of language helped to shape the rhythms of the film, how something as simple as a basic stage direction can anchor an entire scene, or how he wanted this Macbeth (and let’s not forget his lady) to have a “young and vicious” quality that was largely absent from stuffier, tamer adaptations of the author’s work. The filmmaker also lavished a great deal of praise for his leading man, English theatre actor Jon Finch. Finch would go on to other Shakespeare productions, as well as Hitchcock’s second-to-last film “Frenzy,” and is a striking and unsettling presence in the film. Polanski had apparently met Finch on a plane and like the rest of the cast was struck by Finch’s charisma and youthful energy. To the director, Finch seemed “perfect” for the part, and indeed, it’s difficult to imagine Polanski’s dark masterpiece without him in the title role.
For fans of Roman Polanski and the works of William Shakespeare, the following interview is a must-watch. Meanwhile, “Macbeth” is currently available through The Criterion Collection.