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Between December 1955 and July 1958 Laurence Olivier was planning what was to be his fourth and final cinematic Shakespeare adaptation, Macbeth. Despite reaching an advanced stage of production, the project never materialised and Olivier declared posterity to be dispossessed of his Macbeth. Since then a host of cultural commentators, scholars and members of the public have speculated about what exactly Olivier's Macbeth might have looked like. Olivier certainly encouraged such speculation, suggesting that no screenplays relating to the cancelled film project existed. In 2012, however, I discovered thirteen screenplays for Macbeth catalogued in the Laurence Olivier Archive at the British Library. These documents trace Macbeth's development from a first draft through to a final and very detailed shooting script. This essay examines Macbeth both in its own time and today, using the screenplays to detail the specific cultural and industrial reasons as to why Olivier's final cinematic Shakespeare film was never made. I also explore the unmade film in its archival context, asking what Macbeth can tell us about Laurence Olivier's status in our collective cultural memory. Through Macbeth, I argue, Olivier offers us a posthumous performance in the archive.
Laurence Olivier,Macbeth,Screenplays,Vivien Leigh,Performance,Archive,Memory,Shakespeare,Cinema