The experience of Macbeth as a film, rather than on the page or in the theater, changes the audience’s interpretation of the play because in a film, the director has control over how it is shown. Decisions on camera angles, which lines and scenes are included or omitted, and the choice of landscape, scenery, costumes, props, and even makeup are all things that filmmakers control which strongly influence how the play is perceived by the audience. A straight reading or even a theatrical production will stay fairly close to Shakespeare’s vision of it, but a film director has the freedom to change things to align with his or her perception, as can be seen in Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015).Order now
Kurzel portrays Lady Macbeth in a different light than Shakespeare does. At the beginning of the film, we see Macbeth and Lady Macbeth burying their dead son (a scene not in Shakespeare’s version), which allows Kurzel to humanize Lady Macbeth by pointing out her (and Macbeth’s) loss. This changes the audience’s perception of Lady Macbeth throughout the rest of the film; because a feeling of sympathy has been created, instead of her actions being viewed as purely evil, ruthless, and manipulative, she is also seen as a grieving mother attempting to please her husband. She has failed in her role as a mother (because of her son’s death) and has left Macbeth with no legacy, thereby, in some sense, also failing as a wife. Because of this, throughout the beginning of the film when she aggressively pushes her husband to kill Duncan and take the throne, the audience is able to view these actions as a desperate attempt to successfully fulfill both her roles by continuing Macbeth’s legacy.
Although Kurzel interprets Lady Macbeth’s character from a different perspective, he also emphasizes her manipulative and scheming side. This is similar to what Shakespeare intended, but even so, Kurzel continues to treat her more sympathetically. This is evidenced by his rearrangement of the placement of some of Lady Macbeth’s lines, such as, “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; … The illness should attend it.” (Macbeth 1.5.15-20). In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, she speaks these lines in act one, scene five, when she is alone.
In Kurzel’s version, her soliloquy about Macbeth instead becomes a declaration to Macbeth himself about her fears over his weak character (namely that he is not sufficiently ruthless to take the necessary steps to secure the throne for himself). Kurzel’s decision to alter the original placement and, consequently, effect of these lines allows the audience to see how Lady Macbeth’s vulnerable expression of her fears further influences Macbeth to kill Duncan.
Throughout the rest of the film, she is seen by the audience as an increasingly sympathetic character (she even expresses profound grief when witnessing the murders of Macduff’s wife and children by Macbeth and realizing the consequences of her actions, through manipulation and influence, for her husband’s character) who seems to eventually regret and malign her contribution to Macbeth’s transformation. In summary, Kurzel is able to portray Lady Macbeth in a different light than Shakespeare does by exposing the audience, early on, to the loss faced by the Macbeths.