Approaching a film adaptation of any Shakespeare play is without exception a daunting task. However 2015’s Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender in the titular role and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, made a praise-worthy attempt at breathing new life into the age old text. Directed by Justin Kurzel this new take on ‘the Scottish play’ is bleak, atmospheric and beautifully filmed.
This is a bloody cocktail of mud, gore, atmosphere and insanity.
This newest foray into silver-screen Shakespeare was filmed in remarkable locations across the British Isles, including the Isle of Skye, Bamburgh Castle and Ely Cathedral. These settings are shown off beautifully and some of the films’ individual shots will stick in your mind long after the end credits role. Macbeth doesn’t just show off Britain’s scenery though, the cast also features a great sample of British acting talent, featuring the likes of David Thewlis, (Harry Potter, The Theory of Everything,) Sean Harris, (Prometheus, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) and David Hayman, all alongside unmistakable poster-boy Fassbender.
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One of the most unique and memorable aspects of Fassbenders’ Macbeth is the unique way in which combat scenes are shown. One stand out scene depicts a battle and largely ignores chronology- cutting quickly between a silent, slow motion shot of two armies’ lines clashing and another blood pumping, ear pounding shot of the charge that precedes that meeting. What results feels like a more concise and perhaps even sensual portrayal of the bloody combat the scene depicts. There’s less focus on any individual fights within the battle as a more traditional medieval hack and slash flick might show, instead the viewer is presented with something like an abstract of the battle. One moment sees Fassbender stood stock still, staring at the camera just in-front of the brutal fighting going on behind him. As the shot lingers the battle itself plays on double speed and Fassbender seems to slip into slow motion as his first encounter with the witches begins. This scene is just one notable example of the notable, memorable and unique ways in which Justin Kurzel differentiated his Macbeth from the plethora of previous adaptations.
While not in the same way as Shakespeare’s ‘histories’, (Macbeth is regarded as one of Shakespeare’s tragedies,) Macbeth is loosely based on a historic Scottish King and another stand out element of Kurzel’s Macbeth is the bleakness that results from the uncompromising historical setting. Early Medieval Scotland comes to life in the desolate scenery and lack of anachronistic grandeur. This is no romanticised tale of chivalrous medieval Kings duelling for supremacy in jewelled crowns- this is a bloody cocktail of mud, gore, atmosphere and insanity.
This film is massively recommendable and really quite a unique cinematic experience.
The gritty medieval reality of this film, Fassbenders’ intense performance and the unique aesthetic Kurzel presents make this latest version of Macbeth a definite success. It’s true enough to the original text and outdoes previous adaptations in many regards as well as feeling like it mixed in elements of the real, historic Macbeth. Overall this film is massively recommendable and really quite a unique cinematic experience.
By George Storr