Macbeth (1979)

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Released 26-Jul-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1979
Running Time 145:35
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (77:58) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Philip Casson

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Ian McKellen
Judi Dench
John Woodvine
Roger Rees
Ian McDiarmid
Bob Peck
Susan Dury
Judith Harte
Marie Kean
Griffith Jones
Duncan Preston
John Bown
David Howey
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Guy Woolfenden
Joyce Nettles
Mike Hall

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Sir Trevor Nunn is the pre-eminent producer-director in British theatre. Since becoming the youngest Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company at the age of 27 he has produced most of Shakespeare's works to great critical acclaim; co-directed an 8 hour version of Nicholas Nickleby; brought the musical Les Miserables to the English speaking world; and directed the premieres of several Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, including Cats and Sunset Boulevard. He has a whole swag of awards and nominations to his name and has successfully stamped his name and style all over West End and Broadway.

     In 1974, Nunn directed Macbeth for the RSC with Nicol Williamson as Macbeth and Helen Mirren as Lady Macbeth. The production received middling reviews and Nunn decided to tackle the play again in 1976 with Ian McKellen in the title role and Judi Dench as his wife. The stage was entirely stripped of scenery and lighting was used minimally, emphasising the darkness and terror of the play. Dench and McKellen's performances, and an excellent supporting cast including Ian McDiarmid, were universally praised and Nunn's production is considered perhaps the most successful Macbeth yet.

    In 1979, a television version was produced maintaining the original cast, costumes, and set design. Phillip Casson took over the role of director with Nunn as producer. Umbrella have released the television version along with several other RSC television productions.

     I imagine most are familiar with Macbeth's plot and I won't recount it here (if you've never read Macbeth it is available freely on the web). This is the only performance of Macbeth I've seen and it is very well done: I hope I haven't done myself a disfavour by starting with one of the best. McKellen and Dench are fantastic. Their individual descents into madness are entirely believable and McKellen manages to maintain a little humanity in Macbeth, revealing his hesitation and regrets alongside his violent power-mongering. The three sisters are suitably sinister, although one relies just a little too much on drooling to characterize her mental instability. McDiarmid does his aristocratic shtick as Ross very well but also plays the comic role to great effect as the porter. Greg Hicks plays Seyton with malicious enjoyment, clearly at home with each act of violence and intrigue.

    Played against darkness, the production relies entirely on the actors to convey the terror of the play and the cast certainly match the task. The director also uses the television medium to implicate the audience in the plot: asides are made directly to camera and the viewer's intimate involvement leads to a strange sympathy for Macbeth. A sympathetic Macbeth is, to my mind, much preferred to the purely monstrous.

    All in all, Nunn's Macbeth is a fantastic production and a must see for anyone who enjoys Shakespeare or theatre in general. Even if you can't abide Shakespeare, watching powerhouses Ian McKellen and Judi Dench in action is certainly worth the price of admission.

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Transfer Quality


    Filmed in 1979 on video, Macbeth suffers from every analogue issue you can think of. The cover claims that the film is presented in "Full Frame Pan & Scan": how it can be both is beyond me. Although I could find no specific information regarding original aspect ratio, the presented ratio of 1.29:1 must be close to its original television presentation.

    The transfer is very soft and shadow detail is murky at best. Black levels swing from dark greens and greys to something close to black and low level noise is constant in black backgrounds. Colours are also completely washed out and on occasion Macbeth almost appears colourless.

    Comet trails are plentiful (see 15:42, 45:12, and 126:15 for example) as is microphony. Brief examples of overmodulation are also visible along with occasional mild analogue tracking errors.

    Pixelization is a constant issue throughout. Closing titles show Gibb effect. I didn't catch any film artefacts.

    No subtitles are included, Some of the Scottish accents are a little thick and subtitles might have been helpful.

    This is a dual layer disc with the layer change at 77:58

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Not a great audio transfer, either. A single English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is available.

     Audio sync is accurate, but some of the Scottish accents are a little thick and difficult to follow. A constant hiss is present for the film's duration and with its limited dynamic range, this audio track won't impress anyone.

     Music is composed by Guy Woolfenden and is consists largely of liturgical music well-suited to the theological aspects of play. It is used sparingly and to good effect.

    Naturally, there is no surround or subwoofer activity.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio & Animation

    4x3 menu with audio and footage from the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.


     The Region 1 release includes an Ian McKellen introduction to the play, a timeline of Shakespeare's work and life, and filmographies for Dench and McKellen. A Region 0 version identical to ours is also available in the UK. I imagine the quality is likely very similar across regions, although I have not been able to find any reviews of the Region 1 disc. McKellen's introduction might be useful but I'm willing to call this one a draw.


    Trevor Nunn's production of Macbeth is very well done and faithful to Shakespeare's play.

    The video transfer is fairly poor, due largely to its 1970s video source.

    Audio is just as unimpressive.

    No extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Adam Atkinson (read my bio)
Friday, January 20, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-S336, using Component output
DisplayLG Flatron Widescreen RT-28FZ85RX. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V357
SpeakersDB Dynamics Belmont Series: Fronts: B50F, Centre: B50C, Rears: B50S, Sub: SW8BR

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