There were surprisingly few people in the cinema when I went to see the latest film adaptation of Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender, as the cursed Scottish usurper, and Marion Cotillard, as an impressive Lady Macbeth. I hope more people have caught up since then because this is a masterpiece rendering of a play that requires a good dose of daring imagination to bring either to the stage or the screen.
Peter Bradshaw in his review for The Guardian called it ‘a Shakespearean noir-thriller soaked with operatic verve’ and it does share with film-noir the dark, shadowy photographic style and the highly sexualized drive of the characters. If Branagh’s 2014 production for the stage already presented the couple sexually stimulated by their ambitious pursue of power and murderous intentions, the cinema medium allows Kurzel to take this a step further. This is not only visible in the overly carnal encounter scenes but mostly in the constant atmosphere of intimacy between the two characters that allows for whispers and camera close-ups.
Whispering is indeed a constant in film. Not only does it make sense since in such exposed setting any discussions on the murder would otherwise be overheard by others, but it also makes for a very disturbing experience as the viewer becomes, to a certain extent, an accomplice of deed since we are the only ones who can eavesdrop the conversation and still can do nothing to stop their bloody plans.
Kurzel achieves here a rare balance between those intimate and constrained scenes with ample landscape shoots of the vast wilderness of the Scottish Highlands. The wide open overcast skies above the rugged, barren mountains can be as claustrophobic as the indoor scenes and reflect the sense of isolation, desolation and the insurmountable fate that hangs over the characters. These open vistas along with the omnipresent mist and the contrast between the permeating greyness and the bright red of the blood that spills everywhere are certainly a cinematic bow Kurosawa (Tribble, 2005; Suzuki, 2006).
Fassbender does not disappoint but delivers an uneven performance. His soliloquies lack the subtleness of a trained Shakespearean actor and he is at his best in the more active and intense scenes. Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth is just superb and highly disturbing in her angelical smile that masquerades her psychotic and wild personality. The inclusion of the lost children (Rosenberg, 1974) in the story gives her character an extra layer of meaning and makes her change of disposition all more plausible.
Some cuts in the original text are always necessary in film adaptations but I felt like robbed of a great scene by the exclusion on the full dialogue between the two characters after Macbeth kills Duncan (Act II, scene 2). This is one of my favourite moments in the play and I was eager to see how the actors would approach it.
All in all, this is a brilliant adaptation that grows on you as the film and the tragedy unfolds.
- Bradshaw, P., 2015. Macbeth review – a Shakespearean noir-thriller soaked with operatic verve. The Guardian. [online] Available at: <http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/oct/01/macbeth-review-shakespeare-michael-fassbender-marion-cotillard> [Accessed 18 Oct. 2015].
- Macbeth. 2015. Directed by J. Kurzel.
- Rosenberg, M., 1974. Lady Macbeth’s Indispensable Child. Educational Theatre Journal, 26(1), pp.14–19.
- Suzuki, E., 2006. Lost in translation: reconsidering Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. Literature-Film Quarterly, 34(2), p.93+.
- Tribble, E., 2005. ‘When Every Noise Appalls Me’: Sound and Fear in Macbeth and Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. Shakespeare, 1(1-2), pp.75–90.