The 10 Best Faithful Shakespeare Adaptations on Film

This week, Roman Polanski’s scorching 1971 adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth makes its Blu-ray debut (thanks, once again, to the fine folks at the Criterion Collection). It’s a terrific movie; and noteworthy as being a Shakespeare adaptation that is mostly done “straight” — i.e., basically as written, rather than relocated to outer space or a high school or the mob underworld or anything crazy like that. In fact, it seems more difficult to just do the play, without all the bells and whistles. Here are a few savvy filmmakers who’ve pulled it off.

Still from Roman Polanksi's "Macbeth"

Roman Polanski’s Macbeth

Co-produced, oddly enough, with the Playboy organization (no major studio would sign on to finance it), this adaptation of “the Scottish play” was Roman Polanski’s first feature after the murder of his wife and friends by the Manson Family in 1969. That crime runs as subtext throughout the film, which significantly foregrounds the blood and violence, providing some disturbing echoes of the crimes (some perhaps accidental, some certainly not). But it’s a faithful adaptation, strikingly grimy and relentlessly grim, with some remarkable photography and visceral, scary staging. And Polanksi’s decision to use the soliloquies as voice-over wasn’t entirely new, but it is strikingly effective, allowing him to go in tight and treat the story almost as a psychological thriller.