To take something over 400 years old and be able to create a fresh, exciting new adaptation of it is something of a feat. The source material for this film is obviously extremely strong, but Justin Kurzel elevates it into a cinematic epic on a grand scale.
The age-old story of Macbeth’s quest to fulfill the witches’ prophecy is seen here in a new light. Previously, Macbeth has most often been seen as villainous, a power-crazed, murderous monster, with Lady Macbeth as his equally wicked encourager. However, here, Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth is more human, shown as more vulnerable in his insanity (portrayed here as a form of PTSD), and thus is more empathised with. Similarly, Marion Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth is more of a grieving mother, less blind to the monstrosities of her husband’s actions. The film opens on the funeral of their child, setting up their grief as a key driving force in the story. Lady Macbeth’s humanity is especially evident in a scene which deviate’s from Shakespeare’s texts with regard to the murders of Lady Macduff and her children in favour of a more horrifying and gruesome death, as Lady Macbeth looks on horrified and tearful but with a sense of helplessness to stop it.
Both principle actors play their parts with a nuanced subtlety, capturing their conflicting inner emotions and struggles to come to terms with the consequences of their actions. Their relationship is portrayed as more sexual than the play, and they are portrayed more as a couple than a manipulative partnership. The odd slip in the actors’ accents (the Irish Fassbender playing Scottish and the French Cotillard playing English) is noticeable but entirely forgivable as the emotion they infuse Shakespeare’s words with permeates the audience’s minds regardless. The supporting cast is strong too, building up the world around the Macbeths, their performances making the deaths of each of their characters all the more impactful.
The film is one of the most beautiful of the year. Each frame is gorgeous and adds to the emotional depth of the film. The lighting and framing captured by cinematographer Adam Arkapaw create beautiful visuals and imagery, capturing the essence of each scene. The use of slow motion in the added battle scenes creates a stunning portrayal of war and battle, as well as heightening the tension and the horror.
This is not an adaptation for the faint of heart, with the blood and gore, as well as the altered Macduff death scene, elevating the horror of Shakespeare’s story to a level that simultaneously repulses the audience and draws it in closer. Kurzel uses the gore to heighten the tension of the scenes and create a very real sense of dread and horror. He is completely in control here, crafting a film so exhilarating from a story that has been told countless times, that he makes it feel fresh, yet retains the essential themes of Shakespeare’s work.
However, if you are not a fan of the story of Macbeth or someone who finds Shakespeare inaccessible, while you may be able to appreciate the artistry of the film, it will likely not completely captivate you. This is not Shakespeare at its most accessible but it is at its most stunning and thrilling, meaning that the initial barrier of the language may still be too hard to overcome for some and may prevent them from becoming fully involved in the film and its story.
This is an extraordinarily directed adaptation that both thrills and horrifies, with two captivating performances at its centre, framed by stunning cinematography.