Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth is the latest adaptation of the famous Shakespeare play starring Michael Fassbender in the title role.
I feel like summarising the plot of Macbeth would be pretty redundant since it’s something that pretty much everyone will have come across in one way or another. Even people who don’t know much about the play itself will find quotes like “something wicked this way comes” or “It is a tale. Told by an idiot…” familiar. I imagine there might be a lot of “so that’s where that comes from” being whispered by audiences of this film.
Shakespeare is everywhere in literature and film among other things because the English playwright has been cemented so deeply in culture that it’s impossible to miss his influence. Films and novels often take inspiration from his work as it remains strong and relevant. For a good example you need look no further than Disneys The Lion King as it is basically Hamlet with lions. With that in mind the rationale for adapting Macbeth for the big screen once more is an easy one since the story is still powerful and relevant.
Unfortunately I found that this version largely failed to deliver something that does the original text justice for me. I’m not a Shakespeare fan as such since my experience with his works is relatively limited but this story is one I know pretty well and hold in high regard.
The problems I had with the whole experience were numerous but chief among them is that the pacing felt very off to me. Many of the important scenes felt rushed through and lessened the emotional impact that would normally be associated with them.
I found many of the choices in the storytelling quite odd and the overpowering sense of bleakness really didn’t do anything for me. This is a dark play but it Kurzel lays it on far too thick for me. In lots of cases the suggestion of something horrible would have been better than actually seeing that horrible thing. Some of the levity within the story is completely removed to accentuate this grim atmosphere which makes the whole thing a constant him of depression rather than making it more effective by contrasting it with some slight comedic elements.
There are a few changes in this adaptation that didn’t work for me. Most obvious is having the witches accompanied by a child and baby which completely removes the idea of the power of 3 being a magical concept. It might seem like a small change but I’d say it’s something that is fairly integral to the play. I can see why this change was made as I imagine Kurzel wanted to have a symbolic representation of how precious youth is and how it should be protected. Other aspects of the film back that up nicely but it was definitely the wrong place to put that symbol.
In terms of imagery and set pieces I was far from impressed. Despite some excellent costuming and set design I found that the whole thing retained an air of cheapness. There was a slavish attempt to recreate the time period but I never felt quite convinced. Some of the battle sequences were serviceable but altogether not that impressive.
One thing that does excel is the cast. Michael Fassbender gives a powerhouse performance as Macbeth conveying the strength and vulnerability perfectly and manages to convey the moral descent well despite the rushed nature of it. Marion Cotillard is even better as Lady Macbeth with a more sympathetic portrayal than I would have expected. I actually quite liked this alteration as it changes the dynamic between the two characters in an interesting way. Both actors manage to wrap their performances around the Shakespearean dialogue convincingly and bring a wonderful physicality to their characters.
The supporting cast do a great job as well. Paddy Considine brings life to Banquo in a way that gels with how he is written and Sean Harris’ Macduff is incredibly memorable. As an ensemble they all compliment each other well and bring humanity as well as a larger than life quality to their characters.
I realise that most of this review has been my personal reaction to this version as an adaptation and that it is pretty much universally adored but I personally wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. If you don’t like Shakespeare or find the old style speech jarring then it’s definitely not for you. If you are a fan the there are better versions of this story out there.