Macbeth, like any play, is open to interpretation by the performers. Each separate performance is unique. The different stylistic choices made in performances of the play change the way that viewers see the characters and events. This means that while the events of the Goold and Polanski films are the same, they tell us slightly different stories. It is interesting to look at the two films in terms of their faithfulness to, and their divergences from the original text, and the effects that these choices have on their viewers.
The first clear point of interpretation is the setting of the play. Polanski chose to remain true to the play’s original setting, in 11th century Scotland. The costumes, behavior of the characters, and sets depict the time period accurately, but in doing so, can prove distracting for a modern audience from the story itself. Goold chose to shift the story into the 20th century, and so the sets and costumes were familiar enough to the audience to fade into the background, and allow them to focus on the story. While at very different points in history, both films were set in the past, which allows a modern audience to have a similar experience to that of theatre-goers in Shakespeare’s day, of an interesting historical drama.
The two sets of actors also provide ample grounds for comparison. Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood, as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the Goold film, were both older than Jon Finch and Francesca Annis, their counterparts in the Polanski film. The two Lady Macbeths, in particular, were very different. Fleetwood was an power-hungry, conniving murderess, and Annis was a supportive wife first, and ambitious second. A number of Lady Macbeth’s more aggressive-sounding lines were actually never uttered in the Polanski film, most likely because they would have seemed at odds with Annis’s portrayal of the character. The difference in portrayal of the characters of course changed the impression that these characters left on...
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