Macbeth is one of the greatest of Shakespeares tragedies. It is a timeless classic that has been interpreted by many a director/producer. Today in the age of film and cinema it is the interpretations of the two great producers Polanski and Freeston, whose very contrasting styles have brought about two very different ways to view and experience the story of Macbeth.
When focusing on the murder scene (Act II Scene II) we can see how great this difference is. Polanski prefers to darken, add shadow, more symbolism and blood to dramatise Duncans murder. While Freestons red lit faces and common use of red on Lady Macbeth symbolises very effectively her vice.The Freeston version is very individual in his interpretation of Lady Macbeth. Costumed in red throughout the duration of the play, with a train that constantly pools red, her dress is a constant symbol of her guilt and her role in the murder of Duncan.
However her very guilty portrayal goes beyond that symbolism. Her stature and her appearance are very different in comparison to Polanskis Lady Macbeth. She is a voluptuous women with dark features and she stand at the same height as Macbeth although her build is heavier than that of Freestons weedy Macbeth. This suggests her as a more powerful character in the play. Her actions are consistent with the appearance, as she herself is included in the stabbing of King Duncan. Her breathless and almost hysterical tone, after the act, seems to be the beginning of her madness. Not to mention her hands and face covered in blood, especially in contrast to Macbeths one slightly bloodied hand.
In his production Freeston adds a new twist to the play, with the audience viewing more guilt on Lady Macbeths hands. Both Freeston and Polanski produce the actual murderous part of this scene very symbolically. Freestons murder of Duncan is a swift one, with an extinguished candle symbolic of the taking of Duncans life. Duncan is clothed in and has white bed sheets, this becoming a stark contrast as we see them go red as Lady Macbeth stabs the king in a frenzy. The white sheets also reflect the innocents and purity of the king. As the characters converse, in a chamber, about what has just happened they are lit with an orange light and the camera zooms in to a close shot, revealing in detail their facial expressions as they speak. This is very effective as it shows the audience Lady Macbeths blood splattered face as she licks her lips in frenzied and murderous, exhilaration. In Polanskis version, a very main symbolic image is the crown, which falls to the ground, the inside of the rim coated with blood.
This is very strong image signifying the fall of the king by foul means. This image reappears in the last scene as Macbeth is killed. The spinning of the crown shows the turning of time, of a cycle. The close up shots taken in the death scene draw the audiences attention on to the astonished and fearful facial expression of the kings face. The killing of Duncan, for Polanski, is a bloody matter, with Duncans bedchamber covered in blood .In this scene, the producer has used a very long visual camera shot, at a low angle of the murderous setting which makes the entire scene more prominent.The second half of Polanskis Act II Scene II is shot in a dark, shadowy courtyard. It shows Macbeth descending stairs to speak with Lady Macbeth.
This is very symbolic, representing descending into the underworld, depression or hell. The camera then zooms in onto Macbeth in a close up shot revealing the shadows of light and dark on his face. The Camera focuses mainly on Macbeth during the conversing, keeping Macbeth in view even when Lady Macbeth is talking.
This is quite different in comparison to Freestons camera work in this area of the scene, which tends to allow Lady Macbeth more camera focus. Polanski’s version is significantly more of an art house production, than Freestons Hollywood style. In this deviation Polanski loses some of this generations audience, with his more symbolic production, that seems to be the most sagacious rendition of Macbeth.
Polanski tends to like to shock his audience, both in the death scene and throughout the play. The subtle and intricate weave of symbolism into the death scene produces a more dramatic and scintillating scene. However Freestons (act two scene two) development was quite refutable in his decision to add in some of his own imaginings of Lady Macbeths actions when she went to place the murder weapon. It is always great to make the audience think more on how to interpret a play countless people have enjoyed. Nevertheless through these acts Freeston seems to define Shakespeare’s characters into strict classes of good and evil to a greater extent than Polanski.
This conflicts with Shakespeare’s creating of characters that were generally, never purely evil, or honourable. He does this not just with Lady Macbeth but also with the witches, who almost seem guilty themselves of conspiring magic and influencing Macbeths murderous decision. But both films are visually memorable, each for different scenes and moments. Vividly showing Macbeth as one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies.Bibliography: