William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the story of a fearless warrior and inspiring leader who descends into madness as a result of his tyrannical ways. Director Justin Kurzel has created a thrilling yet somewhat simplified interpretation of the dramatic realities of the times and a reimagining of what wartime must have been like for one of the most famous and compelling antiheroes of British literature. Macbeth is a tale of all-consuming passion and ambition set in war torn Scotland and how ultimately, greed and delusions of grandeur distort the line between right and wrong.

From the opening scarlet-and-black titles, Shakespeare’s play is more exenterated than adapted, in a leaner, condensed piece of beautifully shot cinema. Each scene is drenched in darkness contrasted by the eerie light of candles and fire which is swirled with a gloomy mix of smoke and misty fog peppered with blood-soaked scenes that see the screen turn red filtered with fury in slow motion and at times intimate scenes that are testament to cinematography at its finest hour thanks to Adam Arkapaw’s brilliant use of colour to reflect emotion when dialogue is not present.

The list of those who have attempted to leave their distinctive imprint on ‘the Scottish play’ stretches from Orson Welles to Roman Polanski and whilst thespians and literary critics may balk at the stripping down of this classic play, Kurzel has arguably made a worthy screen interpretation although some of the classic and recognisable scenes were at times pared down too much.

Kurzel’s briskly paced Macbeth [Michael Fassbender] places the emphasis on brutal, bloody conflict in which the spectre of death informs every act and consequence. He offers old-fashioned spectacle through the prism of a modern psychological understanding of trauma, whether it stems from the horrors of battle or the grief of their lost child who dominants the opening scene in a sombre funeral which sets the tone well. The death of an infant is front and centre from the start of the film and a prime motivation for the lust for blood that follows as we see Macbeth wilfully goaded to seek power through murder from his equally power driven yet more calculating wife, Lady Macbeth [Marion Cottillard].

The absence of Macbeth’s own heir, implicitly alluded to in Shakespeare’s text, is here made a more explicit point of anxiety for the couple. Their joint power lust is made to seem a grievously unhappy displacement therapy for loss and perhaps adds a new slant to their bloody quest for power as a sort of existential crisis – a need to make their mark on the world with no offspring to carry on the name.

Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard give solid and mesmerising performances although at times it is questionable how much persuasion they would have over one another as there is not much in the way of romantic chemistry – here they are less husband and wife and more two sociopaths with the same goal. The theme of masculinity is intrinsically linked to Macbeth and Fassbender and Cotillard do brilliantly in conveying how the pair cope with the stress of their unravelling situation and what it means to be a ‘man’ in the stereotypical sense. Whilst Macbeth is the roaring, valiant warrior, he soon cracks under pressure, yet his wife, portrayed with ice queen finesse by Cotillard, manages to hold it together more ably in the face of prying accusatory eyes.

A beautiful tale of masculinity, insanity and greed this is a somewhat modern reworking of the classic play Macbeth, that simultaneously maintains the language and landscape of its original setting.

Movie Review: Macbeth
4.0Overall Score
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About The Author

Emily Stockham

Emily is from South London and has a degree in English Literature. Emily is a marketing assistant who writes about films and music in her spare time. Horror and grindhouse are her thing - although she will happily watch anything if it means a trip to the cinema.