Macbeth has been tackled on screen by many distinguished directors before now; most notably Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa and Roman Polanski in 1971. Now Justin Kurzel, director of the critically acclaimed crime-drama The Snowtown Murders has tried his hand at The Scottish Play, and the result is, well...bloody.
From the Oscar-winning producers of The King’s Speech, Kurzel's Macbeth stars the explosive combination of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, whose impressive careers need little introduction.
Adapted for the screen, but retaining Shakespeare’s original dialogue, the film launches with a bold inference from Shakespeare's original script: Lord and Lady Macbeth stand at the grave of their dead son, his mask-like face revealed in all its putrid detail. It's safe to say the opening sets the tone for the adaptation as a whole: Kurzel's Scotland is a cruel, soulless one, and his Macbeth offers no relief from the horrors of ambition and greed.
The performances of the leading pair are a tour-de-force – powerful yet subtle, their passage into hell minutely drawn, which is also a testament to Kurzel's knack for creating a sufficiently looming sense of dread. There's an unprecedented weightiness to Kurzel's Macbeth – it won't be to everyone's tastes and might leave less blood-lusty viewers feeling that its two-hour runtime is double that at least.
Cotillard's Scottish accent is jarring – sometimes incomprehensible – but her eyes alone, lapsing from capricious, to thirsty, to fearful, pay tribute to her talents as a physical actor. Fassbender's Macbeth is one that transforms perhaps too quickly – we see little evidence of humanity in the once loyal Thane of Cawdor, and are less charged with urgency or pity as a result.
The cinematography paints a bleak yet beautiful picture of the Scottish Highlands, a crisp landscape that steadily lapses into hot, blood-soaked skies. As madness and paranoia take hold of the newly crowned King, the film's tone shifts from drama into psycho-horror, and the cinematography stiffens to meet it – slow motion battlefields and twitchy, claustrophobic scenes of as Fassbender's Macbeth paces the palace with increasing mania.
The violence of the battlefield provides almost welcome relief from the melancholy that grips the leading pair inside the soulless palace. Kurzel reduces the text and the characters to their bare bones, so that even the minor characters are so overshadowed by the king's manic state of mind that we're less led to empathise with their human losses, more sickened as a whole by this unforgiving, blood-stained world. All are heartless in Kurzel's lifeless Scottish wasteland.
Whilst there are bold directorial choices and admirable performances to be found here, Kurzel's Macbeth lacks true originality. An adaptation that will no doubt be more interesting to fans of battlefield epic than to scholars of Shakespeare's proto-thriller seeking an innovative take on The Scottish Play. There's much sacrificed then, but much to admire in the weighty performances of two indisputably talented actors.
|What||Macbeth film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
On 30 Nov 15, 12:00 PM – 12:00 AM
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