Written by Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie and Todd Louiso / Directed by Justin Kurzel
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and David Thewlis
Lady Macduff: This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues was once thought honest.
“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” Something wicked definitely comes your way in Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s MACBETH. In fact, it might possibly be the most beautifully shot Shakespeare adaptation I have ever seen. Forget every teen targeted tale we have been served over the past 15 years, and the plethora of other Shakespearean adaptations (there are over 420 of them, according to Wikipedia) that are overly long or just poorly produced. The latest adaption of MACBETH is everything you want this tragedy to be; bloody, dark and deeply absorbing.
Originally written in 1605, MACBETH tells the story of the Thane of Glamis (aka. Macbeth), who after a meeting with three witches, is told that he will one day be king of Scotland. With this knowledge, Macbeth takes things into his own hands and makes sure he is the one sitting on the throne. But after killing King Duncan (David Thewlis of HARRY POTTER fame), he and his wife are plagued by paranoia and guilt and cannot stop the murder and reign of terror and arrogance over their kingdom. Eventually the overwhelming visions of the dead and guilt from their actions consume the pair and their lives come to an end. (Not a spoiler; you should have known they died. This is Shakespeare after all.)
That is absolutely the Coles notes version of the story, and dear reader, I am assuming you already know the tale well so there is no need to go into it any further. Still, there are some changes and omissions from the original play in this screen adaptation. Given that this is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, and the movie is just under two hours long, it makes sense (as with most adaptations) that some things scenes to be left out. The opening scene for example with the famous quote mentioned above is removed, and some lines are said by different characters in order to move the story along faster. But all in all, it is true to the source material.
Kunzel’s MACBETH hits a nerve immediately with its opening shot of a dead infant and the family surrounding its corpse for the funeral. The camera lingers for long moments, the colour palette stark, cold and menacing. Four woman stand, far off in the grass, watching as the funeral pyre begins. “When shall we meet again?”, one asks, expressionless and cold as the Scottish Highlands where the movie was filmed. The beautiful darkness of the film is what stood out most for me, and far above the performances of both Michael Fassbender in the title role and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. That isn’t to say their performances aren’t worth mentioning, because they certainly are, especially Fassbender’s; his Macbeth has dead eyes and powerful dialogue. But each shot is so beautifully bleak, even during the epic battle sequences which feature stunning slow-motion shots, the camera is still, pensive even, allowing the dialogue and the scenery to tell the story.
The costumes and set design are also stunning elements of the film that look ornate yet simple, and none of the clothing or fabrics are ever too bright or stand out except for a streak of light blue makeup that Lady Macbeth dawns after Macbeth takes the throne. The decor of Macbeth’s chamber is simple, yet a wall to the side that is covered with antlers shows the designer’s attention to detail, even when those details are never prominent on screen.
Jed Kurzel’s haunting score is apt, giving a feel of Scottish folk-inspired music and an unsettling feeling to the landscape as Macbeth goes on his tyrannical killing spree. The music is especially effective when the witches appear, or the characters are having visions of the dead, which happens a lot. (Side note: Jed is the director’s brother.)
Macbeth has never been on my list of favourite Shakespearean plays. However, what drew me to see this film was the production and visual style of it, and I did not leave disappointed. It still may not be my favourite tale, but the movie is certainly one that I can’t wait to watch again. The story, even though some of the great lines are omitted, spoke to me in a new way, which is exactly the goal each time a Shakespearean play is adapted: appeal to a new or wider audience; find something new to say with it. Justin Kurzel’s MACBETH succeeds because the elements are so tight, even the formatting of the story works to make it a concise tale that never meanders away from the main plot. If you’re familiar with the story or perhaps you’ve never read it, it’s now time you do, and this filmed version might be the only one that matters. All hail, indeed.