Daggers out - Macbeths head for showdown

Suddenly the Scottish play is all the rage in Hollywood. Rival versions are getting the computer graphics treatment as they head for a clash at the box office
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Macbeth is one of the most-filmed of Shakespeare's works, with the earliest movie version more than 100 years old. But that doesn't seem to have curbed the enthusiasm of film-makers: no fewer than five new versions of the Scottish tragedy, including rival Hollywood productions, are planned or have just been finished.

One big-budget version will star Sean Bean in the title role and Tilda Swinton as Lady Macbeth. Going head-to-head with the British pair will be American Oscar winners Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jennifer Connelly. Both movies will be filmed partly in Scotland, and both intend to appeal to today's audiences by using special effects and the latest technology to heighten the supernatural aspects of the classic drama.

Ghosts, witches, battle scenes and violent action will all be graphically depicted, in the hope that the films will appeal to a broader audience than previous Shakespearean movies. Antidote Films, which is producing the Philip Seymour Hoffman version, is promising a "visceral adaptation that emphasises the potently cinematic aspects of the drama".

Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, is sceptical. "Film-makers and actors love to get their teeth into Shakespearean dialogue," he said. "I think we will always see film-makers looking to Shakespeare for their stories and trying to bring new creative cinematic twists to them, [but] you never really make a movie like that looking for huge box office. You do it for the love of the craft and the love of the language."

Nor are the Hollywood productions of Macbeth the only ones. Both will be beaten to a release date by an Australian version, a contemporary retelling set in the ganglands of Melbourne, starring Sam Worthington, which will make its debut at the Toronto Film Festival in September. A project called Macbett (The Caribbean Macbeth) is reportedly going into production in the Caribbean. A fifth version, set in contemporary London, is listed on the Internet Movie Database as being in the works, but will probably not trouble Hollywood executives: its estimated budget is £3,000 and the star and screenplay writer, Fergus March, has no other credits listed to his name.

Sean Bean, who played Macbeth in the West End three years ago, and Tilda Swinton will star in Come Like Shadows, which takes its title from a line in the play. Originally called Dunsinane, the £5.4m movie is being produced by the French director Luc Besson, with Steven Soderbergh, who directed Erin Brockovich and Ocean's Eleven, as executive producer. John Maybury, whose films include the fantasy thriller The Jacket and the Francis Bacon biopic Love is the Devil, will direct.

Come Like Shadows is expected to begin filming in October, giving it a lead over its rival project, which does not yet have a start date. The makers are waiting for a gap in Philip Seymour Hoffman's schedule, which has become increasingly busy since he won the best actor Oscar for Capote earlier this year.

Some of the world's leading film-makers, including Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa and Roman Polanski, have made versions of Macbeth. The first, showing the duel scene from the play, was filmed in 1905, and proved such a success that seven more Macbeth films were turned out in the next 15 years.

A BBC version last year starred James McAvoy as Joe Macbeth, an ambitious chef in an upmarket restaurant, with the three witches replaced by three binmen. But the story has undergone more drastic overhauls in its time: an "action comedy", Macbeth 3,000: This Time, It's Personal was released in Canada last year.