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The Director
Adapting for the Screen
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Howard Davies directing

Adapting for the Screen

The Approach 

The producer, Richard Fell, and I asked the playwright, Michael Frayn, if he would be interested in writing the piece for television and his response was, "No, because I haven't a clue how it would adapt. I don't know what to do with it, so I'll leave it to you, Howard."

Initially, I was very nervous about doing the script. But by looking at it not as a scientific piece, but as a piece about politics and morality, and about people and betrayal... I knew I could tackle it.

In the play science becomes a moral issue... you cannot divorce science from the world in which you live.

Michael had taken the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle as the metaphor for the play. He uses it as a metaphor for the uncertainty in human relationships. Copenhagen is not only about a particular meeting between two men, dealing with nuclear physics in the Second World War ...ultimately, it's about friendship and betrayal.

Howard Davies
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Howard Davies on adapting Copenhagen for the screen

The Script 

The first problem I had is how do I move between the present day and the past. The stage script slips between the past and the present continually, and you don't know if these characters are in 1941, or whether they are looking back on 1941. And it's done very subtly, very cleverly.

To make this work for film I realized that I had to be very specific about when scenes were to be played out in 1941, like a flashback, and when they were played out today. So I had to change all the tenses.

The adaptation really comes in trying to visualize it.

I also broke the script down into three sections, where the characters replay the events of that night in three different ways. I felt that the only way to get this to work was to methodically use the same crane shot every time I went into the memory of 1941... but when you went into the second version of it, the crane shot would go off into a slightly different tangent. And the third version would go off into even more different camera angles.




Director Howard Davies



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