How effective an adaptation of the play Macbeth is the film ‘Macbeth on the Estate’?
Macbeth on the Estate is a modern adaptation of Macbeth. It is set on a modern, run-down housing estate in Birmingham. The major changes from the play are the setting and the characters. There are much fewer noble qualities about the people and places shown. Instead, the setting is very run-down and poor. The characters are also corrupt and indulgent. A lot of the blame for the bad things that happen in the play seems to be given to characters.
For example, the possibility that the witches control Macbeth, and he is not in control is implied to be untrue by suggesting that the effects that seem to be supernatural are simply caused by drugs and the poor conditions. There are also some things done that cannot be done in a theatre, such as camerawork to direct the audience. I believe that the film is a reasonable good conversion of the play into a modern film. I believe that it managed to portray the meaning of the original in a modern way that is easy to understand for modern people, as well as making suggestions about the story.
I like how every aspect of Shakespearean world was converted into something of the modern world, for example the castle being converted into a social club. What I don’t like about it is the fact that the language wasn’t changed from the original text. Although it is quite important to keep the film similar to the original, so as not to forget that it is the same play, I think it made the film too much like the original play. I believe that if the setting is changed, the modernisation should be completed by making the language more modern.
The point of the film is, after all, to give a modern slant. The language is the most out-of-date part and the most difficult-to-understand part of the play, and I believe that modern language should have been included. I will answer the question of how the ideas have been modernised mainly by giving various examples and explanation of what has been shown in their modernisation. I will answer the question of how the beginning and ending of the play have been changed by describing both beginnings and endings, explaining the changes made and also by giving reasons for changes.
I will discuss the change in theatricality by first describing the differences between what can be done in film compared with theatre, and then describing and explaining the particular changes. I will discuss the characters by giving a description of the general change in the characters, and why this is, and then by analysing the change in each character individually, with possible reasons for these changes. I will then discuss how and why the adaptation loses its social and historical meaning and adds a meaning of its own.
Shakespeare plays are often modernised to make them more accessible to modern people. This is so that people now can understand the plays, and can understand the meanings behind the plays, because they have been put into a modern context that we can relate to. Some ideas are not actually just translated; they are completed changed, or some are added. For example, the idea of Macbeth being totally evil is changed. Because this modernisation is a film, which means that it has certain ways to direct the audience in a certain way, a select few of the ideas from the original play are translated.
An example of these is the idea that Macduff is a complete hero. Although I do not like the fact that only a few ideas are translated, I believe that on the whole, the few that have been translated have been translated well. The beginning and ending of a play or film can be very important for the meaning behind it. Beginnings give the audience a place to start from, to understand the story. They introduce the story and characters, and give the producers a place to start the story from. Endings are useful to round off the story, and give the producers a place to end the story.
They are also useful to round off the story for the audience, whether it is a resolved ending or a cliffhanger. The very beginning scene of the play involves the three witches discussing Macbeth. This gives and impression of them controlling the plot, and makes this scene seem like the original source of Macbeth’s evil. The beginning of the film is very different to that of the play. Macduff says an invented dialogue, although the audience does not know who he is at the time. The beginning has a lot of subtle references to the setting and the meanings.
Macduff recites the new speech on a large wasteland. When the camera first shows this setting, before Macduff enters the scene, there is nothing restricting the view, and the whole of the frame is used, including the very extremities, so there is no particular focus point. This makes suggestions about the idea of confusion and the lack of focus in the story. The fact that the camera fades in re-enforces this with a feeling of fog. This barren landscape could be a battlefield, possibly like one in the play, reflecting the war-like culture.
The fact that we don’t know what it is re-enforces the idea of confusion, and also the idea about the audience deciding themselves about the true meaning of the play. The shot of Macduff is very close to him, and he looks right into the camera. This gives the impression that he is talking directly to the audience. This and the fact that Macduff is in the very first scene, rather than the witches, give an impression that Macduff is controlling the whole story, instead of the supernatural.
I believe that Macduff is used as part of the way that the director makes him a larger part of the story, to ask questions about his true character. There are many differences between a play and a film. The main one is that with a play, the audience can interact much more, and can decide the story for themselves. This mainly comes from lack of direction, and the ability to imagine elements of the story. One way in which this is done is by not directing the audience’s view. In a film, because there is a camera, the audience’s view can be directed onto a particular character or object.
This means that the audience’s view can also be sub-consciously directed towards a particular meaning to the film. In a play, on the other hand, the audience is free to look at whichever characters they wish, to watch their actions and reactions to other events. This adds an element of the audience being able to decide what really happens in the play, and being able to decide which ideas are true, as well as the director being able to direct the audience to parts which show their own feelings.
Another way in which is this is achieved is the difference in how the setting is portrayed. A film can be shot in different locations, making the setting much more believable, and making it seem much more like the characters are in the place where they are supposed to be. One again, this allows the audience to be directed, and shown exactly what the director believes the setting is, leaving no room for imagining it. A play has a much less vivid, defined setting. It is demonstrated by symbolic references to the actual things, meaning that the audience has to imagine them more.
This means that a film is better if the director wants to deliberately highlight a particular idea to the audience, and wants to tell them something that they believe in. A play is better for giving a more open story, in which the audience is independent, and decides what is true about the story. Although the setting and characters are updated in the film, the language is not. As I have already mentioned, personally, I do not believe that this is very effective, because I think that if some parts are modernised, all the parts should be, although it is quite important to keep the conversion similar to the original.
Tension can be shown very well in film, by using particular camera angles or special effects. This means that the tension in the film is shown much better, which is good, but only some elements of tension are properly shown, because the director has chosen to use only certain ideas. Because of the differences between film and theatre, the audience can also be directed towards certain elements of tension. In film, visual images can be used very well, because it is a visual medium, by using special effects. I do not believe that visual effects are used to a great extent in Macbeth on the Estate.
The images used are not particularly used much more than they would be in a play. I do not believe that the potential for visual effects is used fully. Instead, the film loses some of the quality of the language from the play, which is an oral medium, making the film a less effective adaptation. It may be true, though, that the director has chosen to do this because what she wants to tell us is done much more subtly by using changes in the characters and setting. The soliloquies in the film are not adapted from the play very much.
No elements that are exclusive to film are used, such as visual effects, making the soliloquies very similar to the originals. This is again because the director only wanted to make subtle changes. The actor can change their character by showing different body language, for example facial expression, and can use different tones to change the meaning of what the character is saying. The way that an actor can change the character is subtle, by changing subtle things not mentioned in the script. The part can be changed in many different ways.
Some of these are quite significant, such as changing the original lines, adding soliloquies and changing things that are described directly in the original script. Others are less significant, and only involve changing parts that are not directly expressed in the original script, for example set locations and body language for the actors to use to help slightly change the emotions and related things, which make up the characters. The main alteration to the characters was to make them seem corrupt and not noble, to put them and society partly to blame for everything.
It is mainly the characters that are very noble in the play who are changed, to make them seem less so. The major of these is King Duncan. In the play, he was known as a good and much-loved king. In the film, although he is liked a lot by the main characters, he has lost his nobility and kingliness. Instead of his castle, he has a social club, and he is very indulgent. Although all of the characters drink and smoke, he does these to more extent, and he almost never seen without a pint of beer.
As well as having un-noble habits, he is also quite a sleazy character. For example, he hassles Lady Macbeth and is unpleasant to some of his servants. He is the main element in the way that the new director shows the environment around Macbeth as being corrupt and his character is changed more extremely than the others, in this way, because he is seen as the figurehead of the nobility in the play, being the most noble. Duncan’s son, Malcolm, seems to be changed to also reflect the corrupt environment, but not as much.
As in the play, he does what his father does, and copies him, but this is different in the film. He joins in with the indulgence, but this could just be the result of the world around him. Like in the play, he is quite good-natured, and a good person. The director could have used this to make suggestions about young people, not just now, but always, compared to adults. I believe that the fact that she shows the young people joining in with what the adults are doing, implies that they copy what the people around them do, and they quickly become just like the rest of society.
The fact that he is a good person, and is not like his father suggests that people are born good and not corrupt, though, and are not like their environment until it indoctrinates them, and it becomes normality to them. This is one of the suggestions that the director makes about society that is true about today and Shakespeare’s day. Donaldbain rarely appears in the film, and he is only slightly changed, in the same way as Malcolm. Banquo is changed much in the same way as the other people around the royalty; he has also lost nobility and is part of the corrupt society.
Fleance remains more or less the same as in the play, but he has more of an element of innocence. He is younger than he seems to be in the film, and he has a very close relationship with his father, relying on him heavily. He seems to be very distressed by the events in the story, and there is strange thing at the end of the film: he points his hand at the camera as if it is a gun, and fires. This could be to show that he has been indoctrinated by the corrupt society, and he is no longer fearful of firing a gun, and killing someone, because Macduff shot Macbeth.
I think that he could symbolise the pure good in the story which struggles to survive in the terrible environment, and then in the end has to give up and be lost into the corruption. Macduff is changed the most in relation to the other characters. In the play, he is Scottish, like most of the other characters, meaning that his background does not make him stand out from the others. On the other hand, in the film, all of the other characters are changed into English people from Birmingham. He, on the contrary, is from the West Indies, and so stands out from the other characters due to his background.
This is to make him more obviously a very significant character in the story. The director has done this because she wants to portray Macduff as more of a main character than in the film, and wants to ask us about whether or not he is really as heroic as he is shown as in the play. This was because the film explores the good and evil in all of the characters more than in the play. In the play, Macduff was very blatantly shown as a purely good character, though in the film, we are made to question ourselves about whether Macduff is really as honourable as he might seem.
The director probably did this because she wanted to show that there can be evil in everyone, and no one is either pure good or pure evil. Making Macduff stand out more helps illuminate what she wanted to convey to the audience. Lady Macduff is one of the characters who has been changed relatively little: in the play, she is quite a good person, and does not have too much character that is shown; also in the film she has little character shown, other than her kindness and motherliness.
Although she joins in with the corrupt society a bit, she only does to moderation, and seems quite innocent. I believe that this was because the director did not want to dilute her messages, and the characters that could not help her portray her messages and did not have much significance were kept quite bland, so as not to take away the focal point from the more important characters. The innocence may have slightly helped a suggestion of feminism. The three witches are changed a lot from the film: they have become three children.
I believe that the director chose to do this to help her argument about the corrupt society; she implies that they may not really have any powers, and they just cause the characters to believe in the supernatural, and so carry out the predictions themselves. This implication can be valid to show that today’s society is corrupt, and may have changed since Shakespeare’s time, but it could also be used to disagree with Shakespeare, and accuse the supposed supernatural occurrences of his day on the general nature of people. Lady Macbeth is one of the few characters that have had less blame put on her than in the play for the events in the story.
The audience is made to feel sympathy for her, unlike in the play, which is done in a number of ways, for example by inventing something about some lost child. The changes to her are all part of the general trend that the characters’ personalities are diluted into being partially good and partially bad, to make everyone, and our society, to blame for the events. I believe that the director very strongly and effectively puts across this message, and makes Lady Macbeth seem more innocent very well. This also suggests a hint of feminism.
There seems to be a hint of feminism in the conversion because the female characters are shown as much more innocent that the male characters, but it is not a very strong hint. Macbeth is also relieved of some blame. In the play, he was portrayed as a thoroughly evil man, and his evil deeds were blamed solely him or the witches controlling him. He is also part of the suggestion that society creates evil, and just does what he does because of his society. The characters are mainly changed to help put across the message that the director wants to give the audience about the story.
She wants to imply certain things about the individual characters, but she also uses this to give a new impression about society. Although she wants to make implications about how today’s society, and how it would change the situation in the story, she may also want to make implications about timeless aspects of society that have always existed, and possibly to disagree with Shakespeare about how society was then. Although Shakespeare made a great deal of suggestions about society, I think the new director has taken the story further, and made new ones, as well as making alterations and her own touches to the original ones.
Although the film seems quite bland and without many of these meanings at first, and it is difficult for the audience to realise these subtle messages when first seen, I think that she has been very successful in showing us her personal feelings about the play and in making suggestions to us about society, as long as the audience can pick them up. Any modernisation of the play inevitably results in the loss of some of its social and historical significance. This is because to understand what is meant by the play, people would need to know what the world was like at the time, and what was happening.
When a play is modernised, it stops being about that world, and is about the modern world. There are a lot of modern issues in the film. Some of these are similar to those found in the original play and are only modified, and some are completely new, and are just relevant to modern life. An example of one which is only modified is the violence. The film shows that violence still exists, but in compliance with the idea of there being no nobility, the fighting is changed into dishonourable gang warfare. The modernisation is equally as much about the original play and modern society. Most of the messages behind it concern both in different ways.
The best example of an idea, which complies with both, is the idea of no nobility. It works to do with the modern world because it could imply that the nobility is lost, but it could also imply that it never existed, and the people in Shakespeare’s time were just as bad as now. My argument is mainly about how the director has used lots of minor alterations to tell us of her opinion of the original story. I believe that she has used the modernisation to make it easier for modern people to understand, but also as a tool to suggest that what Macbeth does is not entirely the fault of the people who were seen as completely evil before.
I think she was very successful in taking Shakespeare’s meanings on further, and developing new, separate ideas, as well as some contrasting with him, for example, not showing the main characters as completely good or evil, which I believe adds a very good personal touch to it, and shows very subtly, yet effectively, her personal beliefs. The main ideas I believe she wanted to put across are: nobody is completely to blame; everyone has no evil and some good; a hint of feminism; the world of Shakespeare’s time exists with us today; there could be other possibilities of why the events in Macbeth happened, that Shakespeare did not include.
I think that the film can be appreciated on many different levels: as a simple modernisation for easy understanding, and also as a subtly constructed message about the personal feelings of one person, which can be enjoyed by the observant audience, and can also prompt us to think about what we think about the story, and to wonder what it is really about.