MACBETH (UK CERT: 15)
Director: Justin Kurzel
Music: Jed Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Sean Harris
REVIEW AUTHOR: Rob Stoakes
Film adaptations of Macbeth must do wonders for the artificial fog business. There you are, only making money for if anyone wants to set a scene in a swamp or some alien planets if the film is made on the cheap and can only afford to go to the local quarry, and then someone decides to take a shot at the Scottish Play and you’re rolling in dough. Even if it’s a transposition of Macbeth to another setting, like Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, it seems you can’t get enough fog into Macbeth.
This most recent adaptation, helmed by Justin Kurzel, seems to be the foggiest yet, especially towards the end. At the climax, Burnham Wood is burning, and the fog is so thick that all the actors are just blood-red silhouettes. It’s even foggy indoors at times. It’s a wonder anyone in Scotland can actually see what they’re doing at all.
Macbeth: Fair Banquo, send word to King Duncan that we shall receive him as an honoured guest this night.
Macduff: No, Banquo’s over there… I think… actually, that might be Malcolm.
Macbeth: No, I just passed Malcolm, he was trying to find the door to his house.
As ridiculous as the amount of fog gets, it does pile on the supernatural elements of the play itself, making the Scotland of Macbeth as much a character as any of its inhabitants. It completely sinks you into the strange, terrible and oddly beautiful wasteland that they’ve created, to the point where you can feel the room temperature drop. Wonderfully shot and brilliantly designed, accompanied by a haunting if repetitive score, this is a film soaked in atmosphere, and it makes for a hypnotising watch.
Macbeth the play is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and beloved works, mostly because it’s his shortest and most accessible outside of Romeo and Juliet. While the bard was always a better poet than he was a storyteller (seriously, one of his scripts ends a scene with “And then he’s chased off stage by a bear”), Macbeth was one of his more solid tales, and all a scriptwriter can do is decide what to change and what to drop. There’s been some palaver over the addition of a funeral for Macbeth’s child at the beginning, but that is not the most significant change. No, that is Lady Macbeth’s breakdown, which is very cleverly reframed as a confession in an abandoned chapel. It gives the character an agency she sorely lacked in the second half of the play, a rare improvement when people go tinkering with the bard’s work.
Of course, the big draw for any Shakespeare adaptation is the acting. Movies live and die on how convinced you are of the actors, and it’s doubly true of Shakespeare. The fact that no one in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet knew what the words they were saying meant killed the film, and the incredibly silly 1995 Richard III was saved by Ian McKellen’s brilliant performance. Luckily for us, Macbeth is in the latter category, because all the actors in the film knock it out of the park. It’s unfair to single anyone out, really, because it’s genuinely amazing, but I’m an unfair person so I will single people out. Michael Fassbender has a very unique take on Macbeth himself, turning him into a quiet, brooding and terrifying presence, but even he doesn’t match Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, whose electrifying sense of power and awe makes all of the bloodsoaked warriors surrounding her look like kittens.
Overall, Macbeth is a victory on almost all fronts; visually striking, brilliantly acted and a rare improvement on the original play. It really threatens Throne of Blood for the title of best translation of Macbeth to film, and there is no reason not to watch it. Just make sure you can find your way through the fog.
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