Title: Macbeth (2015)
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, David Thewlis, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki
Director: Justin Kurzel
Genre: Drama, History, Adaptation, Shakespearean Tragedy
If there is one thing that people love to do with Shakespearean plays, it is to adapt, film and just revisit the classic tales over and over again. Throughout the years, the play of Romeo and Juliet has been transformed into the mafia-based drama of Baz Lurhmann’s 1996 film, and the story of Hamlet became the basis for the well-loved Disney tale of The Lion King. And with this is mind, Macbeth hasn’t been ignored. With directors such as Orson Welles and Roman Polanski having chosen to adapt ‘The Scottish Play’, along with countless others, it begins to beg the question ‘Can you do anything more?’. And in this instant, the answer is a firm yes. This new adaptation, from Australia filmmaker Justin Kurzel, strips back the tale, and gives the audience a raw, expertly filmed and deeply memerising version of this play, and certainly gives that ‘wow factor’ that Shakespeare’s tragedy’s are so well-known for.
With graphic, bloody battles set against the raw beauty of the Scottish landscape, this adaptation doesn’t apologise for the shock value that it gives the audience. With the language coming straight from the original play, the soliloquies and conversations are expertly delivered by the actors, yet I must give you some warnings. Some iconic moments were completely cut out. So, if you’re expecting to hear the famous ‘double, double’ scene, then I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. However, some other scenes which may have been difficult, or even cringy to watch (the Birnam Wood scene, which I have actually seen as men covered in tree bark marching into battle) have been wonderfully adapted and changed to fit in with the feel of the film. Kurzel and his team have completely ripped open the heart of this play, and just bared its contents to the world. And I must applaud the filming and visual team on this film. It can be said sometimes, that the landscape and shots really outshone the actors. The film was shot beautifully, and really showed off the wild and bleak beauty of the Scottish – or if you want to geographically narrow it down further, Skye – region.
But behind every great director, there must be an equally good cast. And boy, what a group. Fassbender slid so well into the role of Macbeth, he seemed to be almost born to play this power-mad, and ambitious warrior-king. When delivering his soliloquies, Fassbender’s delivery was flawless, and the agonised and tortured way he portrayed Macbeth as he slowly descended into madness was fantastic to witness. Throughout the film, Fassbender seemed to be able to flit between the characters of angry warrior, power-mad king, lustful husband, paranoid murderer and smooth liar without any sort of effort, and when you first of all saw him in his face-paint, blood-splattered armour and steely stare, he really intimidate all who were watching. What I also loved about the battle scenes were that in some parts, they went into slow-motion. This really hyped up the tension, and made you focus on the expressions just before the conflict started.
Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth was another powerful performance. With these iconic roles, you needed the actors playing them to be of equal standing, and be able to deliver such blistering performances that they would be shine in their own light, and just elevate the other up. And in my opinion, Cotillard certainly held her own against Fassbender.
Initially set up, as the play shows, to be Macbeth’s accomplice in the murder of Duncan, and giving off an ice-cold composure in her quest to be queen, it is only when we come to the famous ‘Out damned spot’ scene when we see the real level of Cotillard’s acting ability. In the famous sleepwalking scene, Cotillard’s heart-wrenching delivery really haunted me. Slumped against the floor, delivering her lines in a broken manner, and with tears cascading down her face, Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth doesn’t seem to be the aloof, power-driven murderess of other adaptations, but suffering from her own traumas, her own madness and her own her despair. And from this, Kurzel has almost softened the character of Lady Macbeth, which some people may not like, but to me, it made her more human and less cruel than previous adaptations. Also, the film starts off with the death of the Macbeth’s young son, and from this, it can almost be suggested that the madness and ambition to rise in power can come from their grief.
Also, with a cast of Paddy Considine playing a battle-weary, stoic Banquo, Sean Harris as avenging Macduff, and the wonderfully re-imaged Witches – as played by Seylan Baxter, Lynn Kennedy, Kayla Fallon and Amber Rissmann – this film packs a punch, and leaves you wanting more. To me, this movie is a blisteringly raw, stripped back and battle-heavy account of Macbeth, that not only triumphs in the acting capabilities of its cast, but also in the sublime nature of Scotland wilderness. One of the best films I’ve seen this year. And I’m not just saying that as an English graduate. The film is out now in the UK, so please check your local cinema listings to see if they are showing it.