"Whether you’re a Shakespeare enthusiast or simply apathetic to the Bard’s work, this new Macbeth is a worthwhile watch and a fantastic film"
William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Macbeth is already rich in suspense, revenge and bloody murder. The newest adaptation by Australian director Justin Kurzel offers all this and more, turning the play into a cinematic treat that absorbs the audience in atmosphere and visceral action.
The story is well known by many and thoroughly adhered to in Kurzel’s film. When Scottish thane Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) receives a cryptic prophecy from some mysterious witches on the moor, he is consumed by its message. Encouraged by his wife (Marion Cotillard), his actions turn into a chain of plotting and murder that brings with it power, but also the destruction of the Scottish kingdom.
The film has not had an easy production- filmed partially in Skye during a particularly harsh winter, the trials of cast and crew have been well documented, yet they have not been in vain. The cinematography is fantastic, capturing perfectly the beauty of the landscape and the cavernous castle of Dunsinane. With the use of colour standing out particularly, the film shifts from its early blue tones and becomes scarlet as more blood falls. This Macbeth furthermore utilises the power that film has over theatre through dramatic set design and brutal, graphic violence. Like a gory Game Of Thrones episode with cinematic style and subtlety, the fighting is unafraid of confronting you with the very worst of medieval battles.
One of the highlights of the film is the treatment of Lady Macbeth. A figure long argued over by critics, this film gives substance to her thought process throughout the story by focusing on her as a mother who has experienced the loss of her only child. Indeed, both her and her husband are still grieving, giving further weight to their later actions. At one especially crucial point, Lady Macbeth is moved from her place in the castle to being part of a crowd witness to her husband’s increasing brutality, brilliantly triggering her character progression in a way that other adaptations have failed to do so.
Children are also an important and deliberately frequent appearance in the film- often victims of the power battles of their fathers, or standing as the spectres haunting those left behind. In an inspired move, Kurzel emphasises this further by not having the traditional three witches appear but four, the last of which is a young child who casts a significant presence as a representation of the lost child that begins the film.
As the lead figure, Michael Fassbender carries the titular role with ease. A proven professional in conveying intensity with his previous work on director Steve McQueen’s films Shame and Hunger, he stands as a formidable presence in the film, importantly with a flawless Scottish accent. Paddy Considine makes a strong impact with the stoic figure of Banquo, whilst David Thewlis gives a brief, yet unequivocally regal, performance as the doomed King Duncan. However, it’s Marion Cotillard who steals the scenes as Lady Macbeth, perfectly conveying her initial steely strength and gradually changing in a way that tears at every heart string. If her performance falls under the wavelength when awards season arrives, there had better be some real outcry.
Director Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth is the strongest screen adaptation of Shakespeare in a long time. Giving the play a full cinematic treatment in cinematography, atmosphere and action, it adds to the play in a way that increases some of its thematic power and boasts some fantastic performances by its leads. Notably, the ending takes a slightly different angle from the traditional story, which provokes a new reading for today’s audience. Whether you’re a Shakespeare enthusiast or simply apathetic to the Bard’s work, this new Macbeth is a worthwhile watch and a fantastic film.