‘It’s raw and powerful – one of the best Shakespeare screen adaptations.’
By Adam Ray Palmer
Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy is revisited once again on the big screen for the first time since Roman Polanski’s effort in 1971. This time around, it’s Justin Kurzel’s turn to adapt one of the most famous pieces from Shakespeare’s canon.
Kurzel’s sole previous feature, The Snowtown Murders, was a tough true-life serial killer drama set in his home country Australia – so Macbeth isn’t a departure from his violent first film...
Macbeth begins with sweeping shots of the highlands as Fassbender’s Scottish warrior and his wife (Marion Cotillard) are mourning the death of their son. This first scene lingers for the entire film, providing the audience with an understanding for the Macbeths’ looming cruel journey.
Immediately after this tender opening sequence, we see Macbeth and his young soldiers with warpaint-splattered faces fight the key battle for King Duncan’s reign. Stunning pieces of slow-motion violence with sword-wielding sequences make the film come to life. The spate of blood leaping from the blades is a menacing addition to the frame.
The story, and Macbeth himself, significantly changes when he receives a prophecy of royal proportions. From here, we really see the blossoming chemistry between the leading couple. Marion Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth is a power-hungry woman striving for glory as she manipulates her husband to rise to the throne. The beginning of her tightening control comes with the killing of King Duncan (David Thewlis). This specific sequence is ferocious and violent as Fassbender repeatedly stabs Thewlis until there is nothing left but a blood-filled tent. The unravelling of Macbeth ensues.
The second Act sees Macbeth’s new rival Macduff (Sean Harris) sword-swinging his masculinity in the scenic Scottish mountains when he sees the dead king for the first time. Macbeth, the newly crowned King of Scotland, and his wife plot to make secure his place. First on the ‘dead list’ is his suspicious friend Banquo (Paddy Considine) who is taken out in the misty woods. Considine delivers a near-perfect supporting role to one of Fassbender’s career-best performances.
Once Macduff flees to England, Macbeth’s sociopath persona rears its ugly head once again as he torches his rival’s family in return. Sean Harris boasts one of the scenes of the film when he learns of his family’s slaughter. Harris, letting his heartache and anger rip in the vast landscape of the English hills, is agonisingly gripping.
It’s the exquisite filmmaking where this adaptation really thrives. A mixture of slow, longing scenes and fast-paced sequences make a gripping coupling. Normally, they are deployed in completely different areas; the slow scenes are used to build up the fast-paced sequences but, in Macbeth, they are blended together to keep the audience on a constant edge. The extra touch of the constant Scottish breeze reminds you how lonely and secluded the Macbeths actually are.
A lot of praise is due for the star-crossed central protagonists. Marion Cotillard is a fantastic cast for Lady Macbeth. Marion’s softly spoken voice is endearingly addictive as she calmly speaks to what seems like just the camera in most of her scenes. Her eerie sleepwalking sequence near the climax showcases her many talents as she is finally feeling the guilt. With Cotillard so strong, she makes Fassbender shine in his role.
Indeed, Michael is a tour-de-force as he battles emotional and gruelling scenes that even exhaust the viewer. His timing is second nature; he is subtle and cold when inciting fear to his rivals yet erratic like a switch of a button when paranoia kicks in. It’s truly dazzling.
Everything with this film is so perfectly aligned that it just pulls you in. Even in what feels like secretive scenes between Macbeth and his wife – you feel like you are the one with the hand-held camera. It’s raw and powerful – one of the best Shakespeare screen adaptations.
Cineroom's Rating: 5 Stars
Macbeth is out now on DVD - certificate 15
You can purchase Macbeth here