The iconic Shakespearean tragedy, following the story of a Scottish general who is prophesied to become King of Scotland by a group of mysterious witches, has yet again been adapted into the medium of film.
First off, I have to establish the reason I simply couldn’t rate this film any higher. An absolute masterpiece of filmmaking combined with stellar performances from the main cast, Macbeth will definitely not fail to disappoint fans of the Fass, Shakespearean adaptations or those with a particular affinity for beautiful cinematography. However, what I couldn’t get past as a member of the audience was the glaring issues with sound and dialogue. Whilst I applaud the preservation of the original (albeit heavily condensed) Shakespearean script, the combination of breathy delivery and dense Scottish accents rendered the dialogue nigh on impossible to understand at times. Only those familiar with the narrative will perhaps be able to transcend this problem – I, for one, having a very limited knowledge of the original play, found it extremely difficult to follow the plot and characterisation without help from my seasoned-Macbeth-fan companion.
“The cinematography is stunning throughout: panoramic shots of beautiful Scottish landscapes, the foggy highlands and smoky silhouettes against a fiery backdrop…”
Despite all of this, Macbeth remains a prime example of the ways in which canonical English literature – in this case, Shakespeare’s plays – provide ample material from which directors can develop differing interpretations, placing focus on particular elements over others. The cinematography is stunning throughout: panoramic shots of beautiful Scottish landscapes, the foggy highlands and smoky silhouettes against a fiery backdrop…Even the overuse of slow-motion scenes can be excused in terms of their flawless execution. The artistic elements of the film are arguably its best features.
However, in a departure from most Macbeth adaptations’ focus on the conniving, manipulative Lady Macbeth, Kurzel’s version places emphasis on the traumatic experiences of war and grief. Beginning with a poignant scene establishing Macbeth’s position as war-wearied warrior and grief-stricken father, his subsequent descent into madness is given an entirely new layer of meaning with this depiction of what is almost certainly intended to echo the modern medical phenomena of post-traumatic stress disorder. Perhaps the most striking example of this is that of the ghostly apparition of Banquo at a feast after Macbeth is crowned. The traumatised King’s sanity begins to unravel and become apparent to all, clearly arousing suspicion and dissent and gesturing toward a tragic demise. Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth shines here too, perfecting the sense of anxiety that their murderous deeds will eventually be revealed.
“Fassbender executes the role perfectly – if there’s any reason to go and see Macbeth, he’s it”
While Lady Macbeth takes a seat in the peripheries in Kurzel’s adaptation, the depth of emotion in Cotillard’s striking performance perfectly complements Fassbender’s depiction of Macbeth’s struggle with the guilt that plagues him throughout. Fassbender executes the role perfectly – if there’s any reason to go and see Macbeth, he’s it. The inner conflict between ambition and guilt, at times transcending dialogue and at times beautifully portrayed through original Shakespearean blank verse, is embodied by Fassbender’s extremely emotional and moving performance – undoubtedly a contender for glory at the 2016 Academy Awards.