Macbeth, a Thane of Scotland, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.
“One does never speak the name of the Scottish play.”
If only Blackadder was around to lighten the mood. Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s most famous play is dark. It’s nasty. It’s foreboding and brooding. An opening shot of a lifeless child being given to the flames ends up being one of the more light-hearted moments (genuinely; much later in the film a similar thing happens, only the young breath is gruellingly taken by the flames). You’ll walk out of Macbeth in need of a hot shower, as much to wash off the dirt and grime caking every frame of Medieval Scotland as the general feeling of hopelessness in your gut. Of course, the source material itself is distressingly bleak, and this is a quite scintillating adaptation.
Macbeth is a Duke of Scotland who, following a bloody battle, receives an ominous foretelling of his future from three witches – that he will become King of Scotland – which drives him mad with desire and gives him a slightly murderous disposition. As bodies of all sizes pile up in his wake, rebellion looms. Michael Fassbender excels as the titular anti-hero intent on vanquishing enemies and slaughtering friends – one of his great strengths being his ability to portray that slightly mad, always on the edge of losing it type character. Think also of Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave; the kind of character that’s exhilarating to watch, yet oddly uncomfortable because we never know quite what they’re going to do next (even if we pretty much know what Macbeth is going to do).
The film is visually stunning. A battle sequence towards the end, bathed in the red/amber hue of a raging fire as sparks fly in the air and on the battlefield, is gorgeous to behold. Kurzel is next handling the long-awaited Assassin’s Creed movie (with Fassbender again). If he can craft the battle sequences in a similar way and re-harness the palpable feudal atmosphere – and, indeed, if Fassbender can conjure another performance this good – we may just finally be in for a decent video game movie.
There’s no hiding away from the fact that the Shakespearean language is a barrier. You’ll probably tune into it, after twenty minutes or so, but to the untrained ear it’s often like listening to riddles – if Macbeth wasn’t such a well known play it would be much easier to be lost. Yet for Shakespeare purists, this is the screen adaptation Macbeth deserves. Brooding, visceral, prophetic and authentic; captivating in the extreme.
Read this review on Flickering Myth
Director: Justin Kurzel; Screenwriters: Jacob Kaskoff, Michael Lesslie, Rodd Louiso; Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis, Sean Harris, Elizabeth Debecki, Jack Reynor, Paddy Considine; Running time: 113 minutes; Certification: 15