Macbeth Screen Talks

Ever since its inception, cinema has mined Shakespeare's plays for screen adaptation. The first ever Shakespeare film was shot as far back as 1899 and was a 3 minutes long silent version of King John. After the huge wave of Shakespeare adaptations of the 1990s, which saw groundbreaking films by Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet), Julie Taymor (Titus) and Baz Luhrmann (Romeo+Juliet) rise to the challenge of making the Bard's works accessible to cinema audiences with critically acclaimed box office successes, directors are now once again picking up the Bard's gauntlet. Michael Almereyda recently adapted Cymbeline with Ethan Hawke and Ed Harris in leading roles; Martin Scorsese is reportedly in talks to direct Branagh in Macbeth, which is also about to hit UK screens in a muscular, atmospheric version by Justin Kurzel.

In many cases, cinema has succeeded to such extent that Shakespeare on Film is now a recognised sub-genre and the subject of a vast amount of academic scholarship. And yet despite the thrilling stories, the powerful poetry and the truthfulness of the characters' human experiences, many are the people who struggle to connect with Shakespeare whether on screen or on stage. To help with this and to celebrate the release of Justin Kurzel's new Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard next week, we have recruited two world-class academics to set the scene for selected screenings at Curzon Bloomsbury and Curzon Canterbury.

Saturday 3 October at 3pm

Of all Shakespeare’s tragedies, Macbeth is perhaps the most disturbing.  Such is its uncanny reputation in the theatre that actors are reluctant to pronounce its name, for fear of provoking another of the disastrous episodes that have regularly punctuated its stage history: instead it is nervously referred to as ‘the Scottish play’. In this talk Michael Neill shall try to suggest reasons for Macbeth’s sinister power and to indicate some of the problems these may entail for directors seeking to translate the work to a medium that its author could never have envisaged.

About Michael Neill

Michael Neill is Professor in Early Modern Literature at the University of Kent and Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Auckland. He is the author of numerous books and essays on Renaissance and Restoration drama, as well as on post-colonial and Irish fiction. He has edited many plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries for all the leading academic publishers, and is currently co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Shakespearean Tragedy. He also writes for the London Review of Books, and has occasionally been an actor – most recently as King Lear in a 50th anniversary production for the University of Auckland’s Summer Shakespeare (2013).

Saturday 3 October at 3pm

Macbeth has fascinated filmmakers from over the world for over a century. As Akira Kurosawa (in Throne of Blood, 1957) and Roman Polanski (in Macbeth, 1971) realised, it challenges the director to unite brutality and the spiritual - an impossible task?  In this talk Tony Howard will place Justin Kurzel's film in the context of other filmic versions of Shakespeare's play that have preceded it, and help foreground the themes and ideas explored in this particular version.

About Tony Howard

Tony Howard is one of the world's leading Shakespeare on Film scholars. He teaches performance in its social and political contexts, primarily Shakespeare in performance on stage and in the mass media; contemporary British drama; and East European poetry and theatre at the University of Warwick. He is the film critic of 'Around the Globe', the magazine of Shakespeare's Globe. He is currently working on the Multicultural Shakespeare Project, gathering information on the achievements of black and Asian artists working on the plays in Britain since Paul Robeson played Othello in London in 1930.