'Shakespeare's tercentenary celebration, to take place in April in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the death of the "Bard of Avon", will be a succession of plays, fetes and pageants throughout the civilized world and especially in the English speaking countries. Sir Herbert Beerbhom Tree, the well-known English actor-manager, who is among the most celebrated of all the interpreters of Shakespeare, is now completing a film spectacle of Macbeth in California. Constance Collier, who had played in London, with Sir Herbert, and who is expected to appear with him in his Shakespearian festival in New York, is the Lady Macbeth. This film will probably be the only cinema contribution to the Shakespearian celebration.'
(Daisy Dean, 'News Notes from Movieland,' The Times-Democrat, Lima, Ohio, Wednesday, 15 March 1915, p.7b)
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'Settling down in Hollywood at 1985 North Van Ness Avenue, Tree started work on the Macbeth film in January, 1916. With no responsibilities he was happy and carefree in spirit, and his fellow-workers voted him a "sport". He did not like the new medium, preferring more space and less pace, and said that "at Los Angeles I never had any private life", but he showed intense interest in the job and enjoyed the surroundings. The picture was finished in six weeks, and every one except himself was thrilled by the preliminary "running", at the conclusion of which he was found fast asleep in his seat.'
(Hesketh Pearson, Beerbohm Tree, His Life and Laughter, first published in 1956 by Methuen & Co, Columbus Books, London, 1988, p.225; for an earlier account of this episode, see Constance Collier, Harlequinade, The Story of My Life, John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd, London, 1929, pp.249 and 250)
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Macbeth was given its first public showing on 4 June 1916 at the Majestic Theatre, Los Angeles. A few days later on 22 June it received its London premiere at His Majesty's Theatre, London:
'Sir Herbert Tree's Macbeth.
'The coming of the cinematograph has achieved the impossible, and while Sir Herbert Tree is enjoying the plaudits of New York his admirers in London can now flock to see him at His Majesty's Theatre as Macbeth - on the screen. It is a wonderful production this that Sir Herbert journeyed to California to take part in. It is a sheer spectacle, of crowds, of contending armies, of stage pictures, there have been few films yet seen in this country to approach it. The only thing it is not, and naturally cannot be, is the tragedy of Macbeth, as one imagines Shakespeare conceived it, for one misses, as much perhaps in this as in any other film yet attempted, the grandeur of the spoken word, which is not atoned for by the projection of extracts from the play on to the screen. Miss Constance Collier, for instance, contributes a remarkably fine piece of acting as Lady Macbeth, but even this cannot quite carry through the sleep-walking scene, or the tense moments after the murder of the King, without the aid of speech.
'On the other hand, of course, there are many things which the cinematograph can do better than the most ambitious stage-manager. There is an eeriness about the scenes of the blasted heath, a feeling of reality about the Castle of Macbeth, which suggests some historic pile in Scotland rather than sticks and stucco from California, a sense of vitality about the hundreds of actors who take part in the production, that could not be obtained inside the four walls of a theatre.
'We believe that this is the first time Sir Herbert Tree has acted in Shakespeare for "the pictures," and the reception given to the film of Macbeth yesterday should encourage him to repeat the experiment.'
(The Times, London, Friday, 23 June 1916, p.11b)
'Macbeth Filmed, At His Majesty's.
'Macbeth in cinema form; Macbeth robbed of its glorious verse; Macbeth with its poet-hero stricken dumb - what an odd transformation! You must accept the production now offered at His Majesty's as a spectacle, and forget the sacrifice of Shakespeare's language. If you can do that, you will be bound to admit that the spectacle is wonderful and the whole enterprise romantic. Sir Herbert Tree has travelled thousands of miles to figure in these films, and we see now in London [that] it required the atmosphere and sunshine of California to bring to perfection. No more stage-effects have ever matched the achievements of the cinematograph. The blasted heath stretching in such dreary distance, the torch-lit picture of the coronation, the crowded scene of the assault of the Castle - these are triumphs in presence of which the theatre can do no other than confess defeat. There are majesty and forcefulness in the looks of Miss Constance Collier's Lady Macbeth, just as there is picturesque imagination in Sir Herbert's presentment.'
(The Illustrated London News, London, Saturday, 1 July 1916, p.28b)
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For further information, see Carl Bennett's Progressive Silent Film List. It is likely that this firm version of Macbeth owed a good deal to Tree's memorable stage production of the play at His Majesty's Theatre, London, 5 September 1911, in which he sustained the title role and Violet Vanburgh the part of Lady Macbeth.
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