Friday, January 18, 2008

Speaking of similar plots....

Yesterday, I responded to a comment about making a plot truly unique. I replied that since there's infinite variety among people, there is plenty of opportunity to tell a unique story. In other words, plots may have a similar basis or structure, but it's the characters and the way a writer portrays them that can make a story unique.

However, upon further reflection, I will add that if you can come up with a really interesting or different plot twist (or two or three), good on you! One thing I've noticed with some of the bestselling literary fiction I've been reading is that there's often a completely unexpected plot twist at the end, and often a few times before.

But back to similar plots, very different versions: Last night, we watched a version of Macbeth done for the BBC's "Shakespeare Retold" series. It features James McAvoy, currently staring in Atonement, as Macbeth, Keeley Howes as "Ella" Macbeth, Richard Armitage as Macduff (and now you know why we were watching this) and as an unexpected bonus, Vincent Regan, who was in 300 and played Eudorus in Troy.

This Macbeth was the head chef of a very fancy restaurant. Duncan (Vincent Regan), a famous chef, is the owner of the restaurant and also has a cooking show. However, he hasn't actually worked in the kitchen for quite a while and has been using Macbeth's recipes on his show as if they were his own. When the restaurant achieves a coveted three star Michelin rating, Duncan takes all the credit and then also announces his sons will be taking over the restaurant eventually. This sets Macbeth and his wife (the hostess of the restaurant) on their murderous descent into madness.

I thought it was brilliant. To be sure, some things didn't quite work, but the acting was superb and I thought the restaurant setting a great choice. There was also a nice nod to Gordon Ramsey who's made watching shows about restaurants popular, as well the theatrical superstition that it's bad luck to say "Macbeth." It's referred to as "the Scottish play."

Here's what they did: one of the sous chefs mentions Gordon Ramsey. Everybody in the kitchen comes to a "Oh, no, he didn't!" halt. He's quietly informed that they don't say that name there. They just call him "the Scottish chef." Hee.

It really goes to show you can take a very familiar plot and make it your own. (Note: Shakespeare's works are in the public domain. That's why and how folks can make so many adaptations.)

But then I also got to thinking, would you call Macbeth a "stranger rides into town" story, or "a protagonist goes on a journey" story? I'm thinking "goes on a journey" even if he doesn't actually go anywhere. It's an internal journey -- the descent into murder, madness and despair.


Anonymous said...

I think it's still a journey, and perhaps the most important one. There's really no point in physically going anywhere unless the internal journey goes somewhere.

I loved this 'Macbeth'. The acting was superb from James McAvoy (his whole progress is heart-breaking), Keeley Hawes (fantastic Lady Macbeth) - and, of course, Richard Armitage (the moment when Macduff is told about the murder of his family just tears me up).

But, just a little criticism for balance - thought they had some plot difficulties, especially when Macduff kills Macbeth - not really something you can get away with in a 21st century kitchen.

That nothwithstanding, I'm rivetted each time I watch it.

Anonymous said...

you make a very valid point Margaret about old plots being reworked!

I agree the casting in this was very good, and glad to see you are an appreciater of Richard Armitage. You may be interested in other stuff he has been in - for inspiration purposes - as he is a fantastic leading man. Have a look at for info. There is also a forum attached incase you fancied a drool fest with like minded women!

Margaret Moore said...

Madnaduk, I've been a RA fan for quite a while, thanks to Daughter, who has watched North and South so many times, I think the DVD must be just about worn out. I link to that site from this blog often and am especially grateful for the screencaps from Robin Hood Season Two (we have to wait to get it on DVD). We ordered Season One the first day it was available. :-)

Re the plot difficulties in Macbeth. Absolutely. Some things didn't quite work. For instance, Ella's talking about the baby didn't quite "mesh", I thought.

But overall, I liked it better than the adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew (although I enjoy Rufus Sewell) and Much Ado about Nothing. We still haven't seen A Midsummer Night's Dream.