Macbeth returns to its medieval roots in this raw and rugged screen adaptation by Australian director Justin Kurzel, where Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard excel as the power-hungry couple, Lord and Lady Macbeth.
Set in the Middle Ages, Shakespeare’s Scottish play begins with warrior Macbeth and his comrade Banquo (Paddy Considine) returning home victorious from battle. In their wanderings they encounter three witches who predict that Macbeth will eventually become King of Scotland.
The plot then charts Macbeth and his equally manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth, committing brutal murder to fulfil the prophecy that was delivered by the mysterious weird sisters.
In this screen adaptation, the bubbling cauldron and ‘double double toil and trouble’ lines are absent. Instead, the witch trio loom in black against the hazy light and mossy-brown battlefield which paints a chilling, supernatural setting as they simply whisper Macbeth’s fate.
Amidst cries of war and glinting torches, the slow-motion battle sequence in the opening scene is brilliant and bold. Soldiers are shown as utterly vulnerable when they charge to fight. Steel slices flesh and visceral, vibrant blood spurts against the grey mountains of Skye in vivid detail.
Perched dramatically upon a cliff top along the sweeping coastline, elsewhere, stands Bamburgh Castle which serves as Macbeth’s stronghold at Dunsinane. Having already committed regicide in his own village, here he contemplates killing rivals to maintain his already precarious position as King of Scotland. The Macduff’s must run.
Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are perfect as Lord and Lady Macbeth. This film version begins with the couple burying their dead child to offer an explanation for both their troubled relationship and relentless efforts to achieve their ambition. Cotillard is commanding; a grieving mother driven to distraction and is effectively accompanied by Jed Kurzel’s haunting cello soundtrack.
Silence, though, seeps into her bloody hands soliloquy and the camera remains fixed to her face etched with anguish. Meanwhile Fassbender’s Macbeth remains tormented and scarred by war. He discloses to his wife with an unsettling flash of teeth that his mind is wracked with guilt and horrible images of conflict.
He paces around his bedchamber. Banqueting in his great hall he sees ghosts from battle. Aided by excellent casting and Britain’s stunning northern landscapes, Kurzel’s film successfully draws upon supernatural elements and the spectre of war to craft an emotive and enthralling work of art. All hail Macbeth.