Macbeth, a Thane of Scotland, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.
The highest praise that can be given to Justin Kurzel is that his adaptation of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as previous efforts from directors of such renown as Akira Kurosawa, Roman Polanski and Orson Welles. Kurzel’s adaptation of ‘Macbeth’ is a haunting, atmospheric piece that delves deep into the soul of Shakespeare’s vision to create a truly memorable adaptation. This is only Kurzel’s second feature (after ‘Snowtown’), which makes the directorial skill on show even more remarkable.
I’ll start off with a slight confession. I often struggle with Shakespearean adaptations due to the language, which requires my mind to work even harder to understand the plot. Thankfully, in the case of ‘Macbeth’, I can remember the story from studying it at school, but I suspect those not schooled in Shakespeare may struggle with the dialogue, albeit that is only a small part of what makes this film great. The film is relatively faithful to the original text, presenting the story of an ambitious man, spurred on by prophecy and an even more ambitious wife to commit a wicked deed, and his subsequent descent into paranoia and madness. Shakespeare’s primary theme of the dangers of seeking power for power’s sake are still as relevant today, and this remains one of his most powerful works. The cinematography is one of the most arresting aspects of the film, with cinematographer Adam Arkapaw making excellent use of the stunning backdrop of the UK countryside. Arkapaw photographed two of the best shot TV series of recent times in ‘True Detective’ and ‘Top of the Lake’, and he uses many of the same techniques to paint the Scottish sky a dusty, bloody red.
Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard make for a compelling Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, two performers at the top of their game relishing the opportunity to deliver some of Shakespeare’s finest dialogue. Fassbender’s Macbeth is a man of wounded pride, burning with ambition and troubled by his lack of children, and Fassbender excels at Macbeth’s moments of vulnerability and increasing paranoia. Cotillard has less to do, but she makes for a perfect foil to Fassbender, and she shares his ruthless ambition and pain at their lack of children. Kurzel has assembled a stellar supporting cast, with David Thewlis as the ill fated King Duncan, Paddy Considine as Macbeth’s friend Banquo and Sean Harris as MacDuff, the Thane of Fife. Harris is particularly excellent, his raspy tones and battle worn features perfect for this kind of material, and as an actor perfect at conveying his inner turmoil, he is one of the standouts. I felt that the film itself began almost too stylishly, with slo-mo battle scenes and overbearing music dominating the opening sequences, but once Macbeth commits his crime, the quality improves immeasurably and Kurzel allows space for the story to breathe.
Justin Kurzel’s take on ‘Macbeth’ is a stunning, stylish and violent adaptation, shot with striking imagery and memorable performances. An excellent piece of work.
Directed By: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Sean Harris, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki, David Hayman and Maurice Roeves
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