Adaptation Analysis – Shakespeare’s Macbeth Play To Film

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Macbeth is the story about a 17th-century Scottish soldier, a hero fell from grace for letting his greed take over himself. In this essay, I would like to perform an adaptation analysis on two film versions of Act 1 Scene 7, Lady Macbeth manipulating Macbeth into killing Duncan, to see how two directors, Roman Polanski and Justin Kurzel, change their scripts from the play text for their 21st-century audience.

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Roman Polanski’s version of Macbeth, which was officially released in 1971, is the first ever Macbeth film adaptation. Meanwhile, Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth is the latest version, released in 2015. Both films set in Scotland.

Polanski’s movie is considered to be the less dramatic version comparing to the original play, as both actors were quite young at that time and their appearance did not seem to suit the characters. John Finch as Macbeth did not give the vibe of a hubris hero; Francesca Annis’ soft facial feature, as well as her long, blonde hair, created a portrait of a much less-harsh, manipulative Lady Macbeth. In Justin Kurzel’s movie, the cast for the two main characters was Michael Fassbender as Macbeth and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. A lot of critics said that Fassbender was born to be a real-life version of Macbeth, with his excellent acting and his talking eyes, he must have genuinely understood the character. What striking about Cotillard as Macbeth’s wife was her large, animated eyes, which had conveyed successfully all of the emotions from fear to sadness, then rage. Kurzel also gave the Macbeths two children, two both died. Therefore, Lady Macbeth in this version was viewed her as a mother, grieving for not having discharged her duty, desperate to make her husband happy.

The two directors built up two whole different settings and added up some details based on their imagination. In the 1971 version, scene 7 started with Macbeth standing alone, outside, on a balcony during a rainstorm, delivered from line 1 to 28 in the scene, resolving his plan to murder the King. When Macbeth told Lady Macbeth, assertively, that he would not continue the plan, Lady Macbeth was stunned and she did not say a word. Not until they entered back to the party did Lady Macbeth held his hand and said: “Was the hope drunk / Wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since?”. As she was persuading her husband, her voice began to tremble and she spoke with a higher tone, creating an inverse version of the original Lady Macbeth. Polanski’s Lady Macbeth was delicate, rather weak, and she used her tears to move Macbeth. Lady Macbeth also did not say the lines that she would be willing to kill her infant child if she had sworn to her husband, making the audience see a much less-cruel, sociopath Lady Macbeth. However, after Macbeth had taken her words into consideration by saying “If we should fail?”, Lady Macbeth immediately changed her attitude. Therefore, I would say that Polanski had created a dual Lady Macbeth, who cover her murderous intentions with her innocent facade. The 2015 version, on the other hand, had a much darker and more mysterious setting, the lighting was dim, Macbeth was in a Chapel, there were candle lights surrounding him. Fassbender’s facial expression and actions were priceless, his eyes were watery, he flinched, leaned on to the wall and punched it. He mumbled the line, it was such a dilemma that he could not even keep the words in his head. It seems like Macbeth did absolutely break down in this case. The spooky background music evoked Macbeth’s fear and his guilt. Additionally, the fact that Kurzel overlapped Chapel scene with the happy and peaceful dinner party scene helped to emphasize the tragedy and also foreshadow the brutal future. Kurzel’s Lady Macbeth contrasted to Polanski’s. While Polanski’s Lady Macbeth is the presence of traditional womanhood, Kurzel’s Lady Macbeth is assertive, strong and cunning. In order to gain an upper hand over her husband desires, Lady Macbeth had used sexual manipulation. By doing so, she “screw(ed her husband’s) courage to the sticking place”, letting Macbeth leaned on her chest like a cat. Then Kurzel decided to skip most of the line, except for “I am settled”, which was logical. Kurzel wanted to emphasize on Lady Macbeth’s manipulation to grant her access into the murderous plan. Macbeth version in 2015 was not as hubris, and rather remorseful.

Overall, the two film adaptations’ scripts were quite close to the play. The directors remain loyal to the traditional settings and costumes. Although Polanski and Kurzel interpreted the play text through various elements, they both purposively delimitate their ideas and perspectives from another and allow the audience to determine the ideas as well as consulting different angles of Macbeth.

15 July 2020

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