Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender excel in Justin Kurzel’s thrillingly savage interpretation of the Scottish Play.
For those of us who aren’t currently studying GCSE English the world of William Shakespeare can be a tricky road to navigate. I’ll be the first person to admit that my knowledge of the great playwright isn’t as encyclopaedic as I once thought it was, while anything beyond Romeo & Juliet is somewhat lost on me thanks largely to the popularity of the story.
As the shortest, most violent of Shakespeare’s works (I know this because I Googled it) you would think that it would be the most readily made for cinema audiences, right? Well not really, as this is in fact the first time Macbeth has been given major silver-screen time since Roman Polanski’s 1971 version, as it’s constantly over-looked in favour of Romeo & Juliet or Hamlet. Thanks to director Justin Kurzel’s efforts and his all-star cast of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, we have now finally got a production worth shouting about.
For those who are unaware of the works of the great playwright, Macbeth tells the story of a fearless warrior and inspiring leader brought low by ambition and desire. After an encounter with three mysterious witches, they forebode that he will become the King of Scotland, thus setting into place the basis of the story. Macbeth is a thrilling interpretation of the dramatic realities of the times and a reimagining of what wartime must have been like for one of literature’s most famous and compelling characters, a story of all-consuming passion and ambition set in war torn Scotland.
This interpretation is focused around that of Macbeth (Fassbender) who is portrayed as a battle-hardened warrior suffering from the post-traumatic stress from years of combat. We open up to a scene of him placing his young daughter atop a pyre and watching on with his wife as their child is laid to rest, his eyes fixated on flames that have now engulfed her body. The harsh orange contrasts with the cold blueness of the landscape – a colour scheme that is used throughout – and we see a man who is descended into destruction.
His fearsome battle-cry helps break the silence in the following scene, as the armies of Macbeth and Macdonwald charge upon each other in what can only be described as one of the most elegantly destructive battles in film. Adam Arkapaw’s camera probes across the faces of barbarian men who are prepared to die, with Macbeth himself seen as a screaming banshee covered in war paint. The scene is shot using a technique we have seen previously in Zack Snyder’s 300 but with the cartoonish vibes being replaced with raw, unflinching terror that helps set up the context for the future King of Scotland.
You can’t help but shake the feeling that Fassbender was perfectly cast for this role. When Macbeth confesses to his wife that he has followed up on the murder of King Duncan, he proclaims that his mind is “full of scorpions.” This is one of the most dramatic scenes in the film and it’s because of his delivery that makes it so much more incredible; the way his eyes plead with her, the fractured grin and more help show off his acting prowess.
Lady Macbeth is given a lesser role in this film, but that doesn’t stop Cotillard from thrusting her acting prowess into the character. She’s desperate for power and urges Macbeth to claim his place as King of Scotland, but soon becomes increasingly mournful of her decision as her husband descends into madness and treachery.
The beauty of Shakespeare is that his work is undying. It’s true that some of the dialect will be completely lost on today’s generation (myself included), but no matter what, the story and the premise can always be understood or re-imagined for as long as we still appreciate the craft. Like Greek mythology before him, Shakespeare has developed stories which are still used today in some form or another. That’s what makes Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth such an incredible experience because its beauty lies in its simplicity.