Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

The Scottish Play (The Olivier Way)
NPR ^ | February 07, 2013

Posted on 02/09/2013 9:14:03 AM PST by nickcarraway

Laurence Olivier, whose interpretations of Shakespeare's signature roles were often considered definitive, adapted several of those roles for film. He wrote and directed widely praised versions of Hamlet, Henry V and Richard III.

Olivier hoped to bring a fourth Shakespeare play to the big screen: Macbeth. The great actor and director wrote the screenplay, but couldn't raise the money to make the film. The screenplay was soon forgotten and thought lost — until recently. Jennifer Barnes, a university lecturer from the U.K., found Olivier's adaptations at the British Library.

Barnes spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about her unexpected discovery, and what Olivier's take on "the Scottish play" can tell us about his interpretation of the Bard in general.

Interview Highlights

What Barnes noticed in Olivier's drafts

"They're so interesting on so many levels. Olivier, when he filmed Hamlet in 1948, he talked then about his desire to make Macbeth. He talked about envisioning a 'blood-bolted and murky production.' And the screenplay certainly suggests a film that would have conformed to that vision; it's very misty and gray and watery, but immediately this is shot through with blood, so you have a very kind of gray-and-red landscape."

On Olivier's surprising dramatic liberties

"I think one of the most significant cuts is the dagger soliloquy, which I think everybody would expect to be included in this film. It's cut in half, so we have half of this soliloquy. And during that time, while Olivier/Macbeth is describing 'withered murder pacing towards Duncan,' the image we see is actually of Lady Macbeth wresting the daggers from Duncan's grooms. So while Lady Macbeth is not guilty of Duncan's murder, she is certainly much more visually implicated in it than Macbeth himself."

On the dark superstitions about 'the Scottish play'

"It's got very dark associations. ... You have to say 'the Scottish play' [if you're in a theater]. But hopefully in this instance, Macbeth has come back in a very positive way and will be able to tell us something very positive about Olivier and the impact he's had on cultural memories of Shakespeare. Hopefully."

TOPICS: Arts/Photography; Books/Literature; TV/Movies
KEYWORDS: shakespeare

1 posted on 02/09/2013 9:14:16 AM PST by nickcarraway
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: nickcarraway
There is, however, an alternative. Orson Welles did an amazing version in 1948, which was really his sets, lights and shadow masterpiece. A very surreal and mythical look, even down to his crown. He only had enough money to shoot for 23 days, but it is unique in film. Oddly enough, this was his second take on Macbeth, as his first one, a theater production in 1936, transported the scene from 11th Century Scotland to Haiti, with an all-black cast, and much more emphasis on witchcraft and voodoo. Though never produced as a movie, it is remembered as the Voodoo Macbeth.
2 posted on 02/09/2013 10:19:07 AM PST by yefragetuwrabrumuy (Best WoT news at
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: yefragetuwrabrumuy

It’s stunning. Have you seen Welles’ Othello? There is also a dvd of Ian McKellan & Judi Dench’s Macbeth from the 1970s available. It is mindblowing.

I love Olivier’s Shakespearean movies, especially Henry V. He’s one of the few artists to acknowledge on film that Richard the Third is not history but just great drama.

3 posted on 02/09/2013 11:17:29 AM PST by miss marmelstein ( Richard Lives Yet!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: miss marmelstein

Branaugh’s Hamlet, the four hour version, is visually magnificent, but it is a serious marathon. Though since it was shot in 65mm (with the short version in 35mm), it is a film that could be shown in an IMAX to see its full glory.

4 posted on 02/09/2013 12:00:49 PM PST by yefragetuwrabrumuy (Best WoT news at
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: yefragetuwrabrumuy

Is that the one with Derek Jacobi as Claudius? I’ve seen parts of it; but I’m not that crazy about Branaugh.

5 posted on 02/09/2013 2:14:49 PM PST by miss marmelstein ( Richard Lives Yet!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: nickcarraway
"You mean Macbeth?"

6 posted on 02/09/2013 2:24:48 PM PST by Oztrich Boy (I think, therefore I am what I yam, and that's all I yam - "Popeye" Descartes)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: yefragetuwrabrumuy

Another downside was Jack Lemmon’s horrible performance.

7 posted on 02/09/2013 2:35:06 PM PST by Last of the Mohicans
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Oztrich Boy

One of the funniest episodes in the Blackadder series. Virtually all the episodes were hilarious, but some were a little more hilarious than others. This was one of them.

8 posted on 02/09/2013 7:04:01 PM PST by driftless2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson