Blood certainly will have blood in this ferocious adaptation of Shakespeare’s play in which brooding menace often gives way to a vicious violence, regularly soaking the sky and land in deep crimson. This is a sparse adaptation which sacrifices a considerable amount of dialogue in favour of lingering shots of war, murder and insanity. And, although it is a shame to lose some of the classic words which are so integral to Macbeth, those which remain are delivered with a thrilling vehemence by the cast, in particular Michael Fassbender who gives his all in a deeply committed and psychologically introspective take on the fatally ambitious Macbeth.
Alongside the omitted text are two key interventions into the play; Macbeth’s offspring and Lady Macbeth. Firstly then let’s talk about the offspring, in the play Macbeth is childless however in Kurzel’s version we see him burying his young. It’s a slight change but has huge ramifications upon various plot points and character decisions, perhaps most potently the way Macbeth treats the sons and daughters of his various foe’s across the film as well as informing the Macbeths’ descent and giving a different flavour to Lady Macbeth’s line: “Th’ effect and it. Come to my woman’s breasts,/ And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers” (1.5.45-46).
Talking of Lady Macbeth, Marion Cotillard relishes every scene she has here and grants them the potency that only an actor of her skill can bring, however those expecting a villain to boo and hiss at will be surprised. The second of these interventions has Lady Macbeth begin Machiavellian however she soon becomes surprisingly sympathetic as she recoils in horror from the pre-emptive murders her husband is carrying out. I don’t mind this change, although I’m sure plenty will, as we get to see the infamous character through a different lens and as a result Cotillard gives us the most powerful scene in the film. What it does do though is shift the focus primarily to Macbeth, rather than being split between them.
There’s much to talk about here, far too much for one simple review; from the PTSD angle on Macbeth’s madness to the way the witches are underplayed, appearing as simply dressed women with no wicked chants that involve eyes of frog and tongues of dog. No doubt people will analyse this adaptation for years to come alongside many of the great Shakespeare’s on film. For now I will simply urge you to watch it, ideally on the big screen. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw has created a thing of savage beauty here, and when you see it accompanied by these performances and the thundering score you will thank me for urging you to see it in the theatre.
Kurzel’s Macbeth needs its audience to be aware of Macbeth and its plot beats as it will be hard to follow for those unfamiliar with the play due to the cinematic emphasis on image rather than spoken word. The finer points of the play are perhaps lost in favour of creating a psychological portrait of madness and obsession; the inner conflicts of the Macbeth’s being projected outwards, both infecting the film’s visual palette and mapping their psyche across the Scottish landscape. I relished in it. It has been a long time since we have had Shakespeare which isn’t simply an impressive technical exercise but a guttural, primal thrill and this depiction certainly is that with its shattering performances, heightened passions and fire and brimstone set pieces. However it is perhaps not designed for Shakespeare purists.
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