Laurence Olivier’s screenplays for a 1950s film version of Macbeth that was never made have been found at the British Library.
They were discovered in the library’s Laurence Olivier Archive by a University of Exeter lecturer while she was researching production materials in Olivier’s 1955 film of Richard III, but have been stored at the library since 1999.
Prior to this, the manuscripts were thought to have been lost because Olivier recalled all of the distributed copies after the film was shelved during the final stages of production in 1958.
Olivier is said to have claimed in 1964 that the only Macbeth film script that was still in existence was “not any better than a sketch”.
However, lecturer Jennifer Barnes – who found the 13 drafts – said that they feature detailed plans and designs, which is in contradiction to Olivier’s remarks.
She said: “The final shooting script offers intricate timings, set plans, set designs and technical notes alongside a finalised script.
“A reading of all of the catalogued manuscripts confirms that Olivier’s cuts to the play text (unlike those of Hamlet) are minimal. It also reveals that the running time for Macbeth would, like that of Henry V, Hamlet, and Richard III, reach approximately 155 minutes.”
She added: “I can only conclude that Olivier did not want the screenplays to be seen following the failure of the film to make it to the screen. But these documents are worthy of study in their own right, attesting to Olivier’s cultural significance as a Shakespearean icon in the 20th and 21st centuries.”