In the rural university town of Exeter, England, an academic has uncovered thirteen versions of a lost screenplay for Laurence Olivier’s "Macbeth." Exploring the library’s Laurence Olivier Archive (probably a good bet when hoping to come across such documents), the lecturer discovered a final shooting script adorned with intricate set designs and technical instructions, despite the theatrical icon’s life-long protestations that a mere “sketch” was all that remained.
While eighteen screen versions of Macbeth have been produced to date, Olivier’s was never made. Financially beleaguered, the project, which was to star Olivier and his then-wife Vivien Leigh, and would have seen them reprise what were widely believed to be their finest roles of the English stage, was derailed and abandoned. Things get a bit Da Vinci Code when one looks into the history of the Scottish Play. Shrouded in theatrical lore – a mystique which Olivier wielded with particularly public vigor after the ignominious loss of his own adaptation – "Macbeth" has haunted its prospective re-tellers with the kind of morbid revenge last seen from Banquo’s ghost. Its run on stage and screen has been beset with cast fatalities, financial ruin, and a notable severing of Macduff’s thumbs in a production of 1794. Abraham Lincoln himself purportedly read passages from Duncan’s assassination in the week prior to his death.
Under academic scrutiny since its discovery, Olivier’s screenplay is a blueprint for what should have been a cogent re-working by an insider who knew the character intimately, and an answer to the 1948 rendition by a very on-form Orson Welles. Olivier’s boldest pitch was to sever the “dagger” speech, omitting the murder of Duncan, while the opening had been re-imagined as a character study of a wounded Macbeth leaning into a pit, staring at a reflection of himself with “his blood colouring all the water around him”.
Alas, the stars have hidden their fires, or something like that, and we will never see the great Shakespearean’s vision come to fruition. The other eighteen versions will have to suffice. [Guardian]