Analysis of two different film interpretations of 'Macbeth'

The famous Shakespearean work of ‘Macbeth’ deals with issues that are relevant to any society in any age. It explores the far reaching effects of one mans ambition, from the total transformation of Macbeths character. From a national hero to a nation-wide terror in his pursuit of power. Although ‘Macbeth’ is set in Medieval Scotland, the issues that are dealt with, the supernatural, Ambition and Tyranny are still just as relevant in our society now as they were in Shakespearean England.

The relevance to today’s society was displayed in the modern interpretation ‘Macbeth on the estate’. Where contemporary ideas of the work was but across while still using the Shakespearean ‘backbone’. We compared this version to a far more traditional interpretation directed by Roman Polanski, filmed in the 1970’s The modern version of ‘Macbeth’ ‘Macbeth on the estate’ opens on a desolate wasteland. In the background we can make out the large shadows of desolate tower blocks.

Through the mist we can see a dark shadow walking toward us.

The shadow emerges out of the mist. It is Macduff. Immediately we notice the changes the director has made to this opening scene. The first difference from the original play is the use of Macduff opening the play instead of the three witches. To understand the director’s decision we must remember that four hundred years ago witchcraft was a major part of life and each year hundreds of witches were being burnt at the stake for practising the ‘dark arts’.

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Nowadays witchcraft does not have the same appeal to the audience who would watch this version and we a forced to conclude that Macduff was used to grab the audience’s attention. A factor that was used to grab the audience’s attention was the colour of Macduffs skin, black. The directors decision to make Macduff black is purely and simply to captivate the audiences mind. The use of Macduff as a leading character could stimulate people from ethnic minorities to show an interest in the film. By giving these people a major film character they may be able to understand the relevance of the play to themselves.

The directors decision could have also been due to the large number of African and Jamaican immigrants living in the council flats on the estates such as Ladywood where this film was made. Towards the end of Macduffs speech the ghostly music and the foggy atmosphere lifts and we are catapulted into a violent robbery at the Thane of Cawdors house. At the house we get a glimpse of what the Thane is watching on television, the lottery. The director’s use of the national lottery shows the social hardship and poverty that many families have to go through on the estate.

And it seems as though, by playing the lottery and winning a fortune it is the only way out of the hardship. We only get a short glimpse of the fight scene, but from what we see and the accompanying fast paced music the director chooses to use gives us the impression that the fight is both brutal and savage. Once the robbery is complete, Macbeth reports back to Duncan in the local pub. Macbeth greets Duncan with a friendly pat on the back, this very informal relationship between Macbeth and Duncan symbolises their friendship and trust of one another.

Duncan too is very informal, his loud, colourful beer stained shirt is only fastened by a couple of buttons, revealing his bloated stomach, from the beginning of this scene we are meant to dislike Duncan. This is very different from the much-liked Duncan in the original play. Although we the audience dislike Duncan. The crowd in the pub appears friendly with him. They all laugh when he tells them a joke. Although it is not clear whether the crowd show genuine respect for him personally or are forced to show respect to him due to his immense power and influence over the estate and the people living there.

This power and influence that Duncan has is also abused, later that night, a party is held over at Macbeths house to celebrate his new position as Thane of Cawdor. Duncan, Banquet, Macduff and his family turn up late evening and bring a large amount of beer. Duncan immediately shows his dominance over females, defiantly not by charm but perhaps by strength by pinning her up against a wall he starts to pet and stoke her. Lady Macbeth turns away and forces Duncan to realise he cannot charm Lady Macbeth by using brute force.

The directors decision to make Duncan appear possessive over women makes the audience feel more bitter towards him, and the decision by lady Macbeth prompts us to think she is a very strong willed character. Something she needs later on in the play. At the end of the night, Duncan is very obviously drunk. He is helped up, and taken to bed by Lady Macbeth. Duncan flops into bed next to a young black girl, probably in her early twenties. A contrast to Duncans age of middle to late thirties.

The directors decision to make Duncan sleep with a young girl highlights the problems of prostitution on the estate, and Duncans desire to posses a women by sleeping around. Moments later he his murdered. Duncan’s funeral is very small. Only Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquet, Macduff and a few others attend. The large crowd of supporters seen at the pub have all disappeared. And there are only a few onlookers. The directors decision for the crowd of supporters to disappear is a social issue in today’s society. Nowadays society seems to have a lust for money.

Wherever that money is, that’s where the crowds are, and when the money disappears the crowd does as well. This is what happened to Duncan; he was lulled into a false sense of security by the large crowds at the pub that appeared to protect him from the outside world, which may have been true. But they could not protect him from a man inside who he trusts, Macbeth. Macbeth’s crime, murdering Duncan could have been classed as a crime of passion. Macbeth was certainly very jealous of Duncan’s position as king, and with Macbeth’s wife, Lady Macbeths ‘Charms’ it is not long before Macbeth is convinced to kill Duncan.

We first see Lady Maceth in her house; she is listening to an answer machine message of Macbeth telling her he is now Thane of Cawdor. The decision by the director to make Lady Macbeth get the message by answer phone instead of messenger is purely society based, nowadays, nearly every household in Britain has a telephone. And it is now commonplace to send E-mails or talk to someone on a telephone rather than talk to him or her face to face. Just after receiving this message, Lady Macbeth walks to another part of the house, a small child’s room.

We are not entirely sure why she enters the room; it may be that Macbeths phone call has stirred up some forgotten memories. The room is clean, and appears regularly cleaned. But as soon as Lady Macbeth enters the room, the music changes. All of a sudden we hear a lullaby played on a child’s toy, this tune. This tune, although very simple, stirs a lot of emotion, as we the audience imagine a young child in that room, there is no child in this room, only Lady Macbeth. The use of a wide angel lens is effective. As Lady Macbeth is in the centre of the picture, the camera captures a large angle of the room.

And it is as though no one belongs in this room, as it seems so unused. The bright colours of the wallpaper and the bed make it contrast with what Lady Macbeth is wearing, and it makes it look as though Lady Macbeth does not belong here. The importance of children to Lady Macbeth is portrayed in a number of scenes in the play. At the kareoke, Lady Macbeth is holding a child. Also, the quantity of pregnancy testing kits she owns show that until a short time ago, she and Macbeth were still trying to have a child of their own. Lady Macbeth’s influence over Macbeth in this version is different to the original play.

In the original play, Lady Macbeth does influence Macbeth through her appearance. But in ‘Macbeth on the estate’ her influence over Macbeth is far more sexual. The main scene where this is most obvious is in Lady Macbeths and Macbeths Bedroom, during the party. Downstairs while everyone else is drinking themselves stupid, Lady Macbeth is busy convincing Macbeth to kill Duncan. Lady Macbeth is wearing a very low and revealing top. She is talking to him in a very low voice, all the time; she is making him agree to her plans to kill Duncan, by wooing him with her appearance.

It works, Macbeth agrees to her plans. But at the last minute, Macbeth forgets a vital part of the plan, to wipe the guard’s knives in Duncan’s blood. Macbeth is a psychological wreck, so Lady Macbeth goes on her own and wipes the blades. This shows she is a very strong willed character, and as previously, she said the famous line ‘unsex me now’ she now supposedly now has the strength of a man and is able to do more demanding tasks and is more prepared for them. This mental readiness does not last long, as soon Lady Macbeth turns insane. Convinced she can see blood on her hands.

To rid herself of the guilt, she repeatedly washes her hands, trying to rid herself of the guilt. At one point, she also believes she has a child, and we can also see her tucking it up into bed. This was not used in the original play. But the director of ‘Macbeth on the estate’ decides to use it in the film. The use of this makes Lady Macbeth appear more insane, as she has always wanted a child, and now she is imagining it. Soon, the once psychologically stable Lady Macbeth turn suicidal, and throws herself off the top of a tower block, the directors use of cameras comes into play here.

As Lady Macbeth jumps, time appears to slow down and she falls much slower. I believe the director did this to make the audience reflect on Lady Macbeth’s life. When she finally does hit the ground, she is surrounded by onlookers of small children. This is another social issue of the estate. That young children are subjected to the horrors of death when they are as young as eight years old. It seems somewhat odd that Lady Macbeth wanted a child so much when she knew it would be subjected to such hardships on the estate. The end of this film was, to sum it up disappointing.

For a film as fast paced and action packed I expected more. There was also no army and no mention of Birnam wood. The film ends with Macduff killing Macbeth with a single shot from a pistol. The director’s decision to end the film with a bullet and not a sword or knife is another social issue, as it is now possible to kill someone without ‘getting your hands dirty’. The decision could have also been for suspense. As the last thing we expected was Macduff to walk in with a gun. I for one expected a fight between Macbeth’s supporters and Fleances supporters.

Having said that I thoroughly enjoyed this film although I did think the end was disappointing. I will now compare the contemporary version of Macbeth, ‘Macbeth on the estate’ with the more traditional version of the play. This version of ‘Macbeth’ was directed by Roman Polanski. This version was produced in the 1970’s when special effects were ‘lacking’. I will compare four parts and characters of this play, with ‘Macbeth on the estate’. These parts will be: the beginning, the character Lady Macbeth, the character Duncan and the end of the play.

In each case, In each case I will try to compare: the use of camera angles, costumes, surroundings, sound and lighting. This version of ‘Macbeth’ is very traditional and the contrast to ‘Macbeth on the estate’ is shown in the opening scene. As ‘Macbeth on the estate’ opened on a desolate urban wasteland with Macduff, instead of the witches speaking. In this version the three witches are on the wasteland, burying a hand, a noose and a dagger. The three witches are very stereotypical views of witches, old, wrinkled skin and dark clothes. That hobble out of the mist.

This stereotypical view of the witches is common in Shakespeare’s time. When one of the ways in telling one was a witch or not was by appearance. Although witches are no longer as important to us today as they were back in the Middle Ages. The director uses them to produce a sense of mystery and uncertainty. Another of the directors tools of making the viewer fell emotion is lighting. In this version, the director uses lighting far better than the director of ‘Macbeth on the estate’ and his well lit scene. In Polanskis version, the lack of lighting is used very well.

As the darkness hides the witches’ faces and makes them appear more mysterious. Another lighting effect is the use of fog and mist. Again this helps the audience to relate to the witches more. As the fog and mist helps to block out most of the light on the set. This improves the atmosphere. The music too creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion. As the sounds of the low instruments played to a very disorganised tune creates confusion and the wasteland. In fact, the only thing the director has changed is where the scene is set, on a beach.

The director’s decision to set the opening scene on a beach is rather baffling, as there seems to be no justification for his decision. I myself am forced to conclude that the only viable reason the director had, to set the scene on a beach was due to the fog effect, as early morning, the sea produces a mist that can be used to make the atmosphere more still and eerie. Towards the end of the scene, the fog thickens and the witches hobble off into the distance. The fog then slowly turns red. This is very effective, as the colour of the fog and the sound of battle make us think the battle was very fierce and bloody.

We first see Duncan in his castle; he is overseeing the execution of the previous Thane of Cawdor. He is being hung. This is a contrast from ‘Macbeth on the estate’ where the Thane was killed by a petrol bomb being thrown into the car in which he was sat. Being hung is a more traditional way of executing a traitor, rather than blowing them up. This traditional style is reflected in where Duncan is and what he is wearing. As this play is more formal and traditional, Duncan is in a castle rather than a pub. And is wearing clean, posh robes and a crown. A crown is a symbol of a king’s power and wealth.

And Polanskis decision to make Duncan wear a crown is purely tradition, as a pose to ‘Macbeth on the estate’ where Duncan is very informal and dresses casually. In this version, Duncan’s clothes are very traditional. In this version. Duncan’s clothes are more subdued and calm than Duncan’s clothes from ‘Macbeth on the estate’ where he wears. Loud and bright clothes. The director’s decision is purely social. In medieval Britain, the king was a social icon, someone who you could look up to in times of need. And because of this, the King needed to look presentable. Nowadays though, society has become much more laid back in its approach.

And in accordance with the rest of society, the King, in this case Duncan has changed his image to be more inline with the rest of society. Another difference between the two versions is the use of friendship. And in particular, the difference between the friendship of Duncan and Macbeth. In ‘Macbeth on the estate’ the relationship is very informal, as when Macbeth meets Duncan, he gives him a hearty pat on the back. Whereas in Polanskis version of ‘Macbeth’, the relationship is much more formal, as when Macbeth meets Duncan, Macbeth bows. An effective use of camera angles is use of camera angles is in a scene of Macbeth and Duncan.

The director positions the camera so Duncan appears much higher than Macbeth does. This shows Duncan’s power and hierarchy over Macbeth and his people. Another difference in Polanskis version compared to ‘Macbeth on the estate’ is Duncan’s behaviour around women. In ‘Macbeth on the estate’ Duncan’s behaviour around women is very poor and he often treats women with little or no respect. As in one scene he presses Lady Macbeth up against a wall. But in Polanskis version, Duncan shows much more respect, and in the dance held at Macbeth’s castle to celebrate his promotion to Thane of Cawdor.

He is seen dancing with numerous women who seem happy to be in his company. The directors decision to make Duncan appear popular among women is there top make us like Duncan as a person and not only as a King. But later that night Duncan is murdered. Although we do not see Duncan’s funeral, we imagine it to be a very sombre affair. And we do actually get a glimpse of the funeral Procession, we can see it is very fitting for era. A carriage, pulled by horses along a windswept path, surrounded by a group of soldiers marching into the distance. In this version of ‘Macbeth’ as well as ‘Macbeth on the estate’.

The first time we catch a glimpse of lady Macbeth is in her house, or in this version in her and Macbeth’s castle. She has just received a letter from a messenger from Macbeth informing her that he has been made Thane of Cawdor. The decision by the director to make Lady Macbeth receive the news by horseman rather than by telephone or E-mail is purely because telephone and electricity had not yet been invented. Also, receiving letters by messenger was a symbol of your wealth and prosperity in society. As normal citizens could not afford messengers, they relied on word of mouth. Another difference in Lady Macbeth are the clothes she wears.

As in ‘Macbeth on the estate’ she wore very low cut, revealing outfits, that were used to ‘charm’ Macbeth into doing her deeds more than anything. But in this version, Lady Macbeth wears very concealing, traditional clothes. Her clothes were also dull colours, such as greens and dark blues. A sharp contrast to the sometimes bright clothes worn by Lady Macbeth in ‘Macbeth on the estate’. The decision by Polanski to change the clothes worn by Lady Macbeth is to, historical. As in the era that ‘Macbeth’ was set, women took a sidelining role to the men in society. And what a mans wife wore indicated many things, such as income.

As a man with a wife who wore expensive clothes was obviously far richer than a man whose wife wore cheap, tatty clothes. The styles of clothes she wears are also far more traditional. A long green or blue dress is also very fitting for this period of time. After Duncan’s murder has been carried out, Lady Macbeth gradually turns insane. As she is constantly cleaning herself and walking around naked. This madness is very similar to that of the madness shown by Lady Macbeth in ‘Macbeth on the estate’. This idea of her cleaning herself continuously to remove the guilt she has engraved in her conscience is a very good point.

And is picked up by each director. But very soon, Lady Macbeth’s insurmountable guilt turns suicidal and she finally commits suicide. Although we do not see Lady Macbeth take her own life, we hear her. The scream that she emits as she plunges, presumably from a top floor window is heart rendering. The light is very low, and this is there to create atmosphere and tension, before our thoughts are confirmed that she has killed herself. The end of Polanskis version of ‘Macbeth’ is virtually identical to the ending that Shakespeare wrote. And the difference in endings is a big difference between this version and that of ‘Macbeth on the estate’.

In ‘ Macbeth on the estate’. The ending was very sudden, and there was no long, drawn out fight as Shakespeare intended. As, in fact, Macbeth’s death is very sudden. The end of this film is rather disappointing. And there is also no mention of Birnam wood, which I believe is a very important part of the end, as it was in the witches’ predictions. Whereas, on the contrary to ‘Macbeth on the estate’ Polanski ‘Plays by the book’ At the beginning of the battle. English and Scottish troops are camouflaging themselves into Birnam wood, and then begin to march towards his castle.

Macbeth is not the first man to see them, but one of his guards does see them. He turns to Macbeth and shouts to look towards Birnam wood. When Macbeth does see Birnam wood ‘marching’ towards him. We can imagine the terror he feels. Macbeth cannot believe the witches’ prediction has come true. The camera angle that Polanski uses is very effective, in relaying this fear to the audience. The camera is focused directly at Macbeth’s face. And the dramatic qualities shown by the actor who plays Macbeth is excellent, as he stares into nothing we can imagine the shock he is in.

When the English and Scottish soldiers enter the castle, they encounter little resistance. As the only defender, other than Macbeth is Seyton, Macbeth’s loyal armourer. Although he is dispatched by a crossbow bolt to the forehead. But that special effect is rather crudely done, but we must remember that this film was made in the 1970’s before High performance computers were around. Especially the ones used to create the special effect laden film, ‘The Matrix’. The fight scene between Macbeth and a group of soldiers is rather unusual, and a little confusing, because there are approximately 5 to 10 soldiers against the lone Macbeth.

But instead of going in all at the same time, they only go in one at once. This may be chivalry where you gave your opponent a fair chance. But I don’t think that’s what Polanski meant. We all know that Macbeth can only be killed by Macduff. This is not very well done by the director, as we think it is daft that the soldiers only go in one at once. Once Macbeth finally does get mortally wounded by Macduff, he hobbles around aimlessly around the courtyard with a sword stuck through his chest, Until about 3 minutes after he is stabbed he dies.

This is too create suspense before death, but we all know it’s just a bad case of bad acting. Although I think this ending was better than ‘Macbeth on the estates’ ending which was rather disappointing due to what a good film it was. I felt there were certain parts of Polanskis ending that was very god, such as the moment Macbeth sees Birnam wood approaching him, and there are other parts that are terrible such as the killing of Seyton by a crossbow bolt, where the special effects were lacking. Overall I think this was an average end to a below average film.

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Analysis of two different film interpretations of 'Macbeth'. (2017, Oct 22). Retrieved from

Analysis of two different film interpretations of 'Macbeth'
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