A Comparison of Roman Polanski’s film version of Macbeth and the BBC Shakespeare production by Shaun Sutton

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Macbeth is a tragedy set in Scotland. There are themes of supernatural powers, betrayal, murder and self-destruction in this play. It shows how Macbeth kills to become king and how Lady Macbeth’s passion and thrust for power drives him. In this assignment I intend to compare and contrast Roman Polanski’s film version and the BBC Shakespeare production by Shaun Sutton. The Sutton production opens with a prominent red sky and then this quickly turns into a dull grey darkness. Roll of thunder overhead is raging. The witches are wearing old rages.

It is overlooking what appears to be an ancient burial ground where tombstones are visible only as silhouettes. This is symbolic of the bloodshed that is about to come later in the play. The witches are sitting around a large stone, which looks like they are about to make a sacrifice. The witches are chanting in a menacing language and they are speaking in riddles. There is a constant drone of eerie music that adds the feeling of uneasiness, which is also reflected in their words and actions as they speak in time unison. The witches say, “Come graymalkin” as they look to the sky and this seems to represent the calling of some evil spirit.

Sorcery is displayed when the three witches start joining hands that creates a very powerful image in the opening scene. The film version completely turns the story upside down. The viewer’s expectations of the opening scene are upset because it is different than the BBC production. The scene is set on a beach (which is usually associated with joy) and now it has more of a sinister look. The pale colours make the red more striking. Red is visible in the sunset and in the blood (and in one of the witches cheeks) red is symbolic of passions, which result in bloodshed.

The witches are not typical or traditional and they are very modern, and they are individuals and they are more human. There are three generations of the witches. The oldest witch is ugly, has a hump on her back and is haggard; the middle witch is a typical old wrinkled woman; the youngest witch is a typical girl with long blonde hair, blue eyes and pale skin. It is symbolic to how evil can easily be disguised and it can wear all faces! Evil also disguised by Macbeth and lady Macbeth, Polanski incorporated many new ideas into his film version.

The witches bury three objects into the sand and they are all symbolic: The noose represents the hanging of the Thane Of Cawdor, the dagger and hand portray the murder of King Duncan and finally the pouring of blood is symbolic of the bloodshed which is to come and also seals the deal of the witches. The scene ends with the witches disappearing into the mist, the sound of lashing waves and the screeching of the sea gulls leaves viewers intrigued and confused. It is the calm before the storm and Polankis successfully captures the attention of the audience with the opening scene.

When you put the two versions together you can see the difference between the two directors because Sutton takes everything from the book and not one line is changed but Polanski changes a few lines to make it suit his version. Both versions start in different ways, but they still end up with the same outcome. The play I like best is the Polanski film version because it is set out better than the BBC production because the witches are not the stereotypes that they are in the BBC version but they are more realistic and human.

The lighting in the play is better and it is more believable in the film version. They open in a beach where they are burying a hand and dagger and a noose and when they are bury them they put blood over the spot as a sign of the bloodshed that is to come later in the play. The witches are also chanting around them asking when will they will meet again and where and what kind of weather will it be “in rain, thunder or in lighting” the witches are a lot different in the film than in the BBC version because they are three generations instead of them all around the same age.

The film version is better set up than the BBC because you can tell that they are acting on a stage, and in the film version they are in the outdoors where you know it is real because of the sounds and in the visions around the witches. The outdoors also produces sounds of seagulls, the sea crashing. At the end of the opening scene the three witches walk off with the youngest pulling a cart and then they disappear into the air. Later on in the film the three witches meet with Macbeth where they tell him his wife Lady Macbeth where they plan to kill King Duncan, which adds a little suspense to the film.

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