Film Review: Macbeth


Macbeth is the new film by Australian director Justin Kurzel, best known for his crime drama, Snowtown. An apt fit for one of Shakespeare’s darker and more powerful tragedies. Flawlessly cast with Michael Fassbender, Marion Cottilard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris and Elizabeth Debicki, Kurzel’s adaptation is as dark as ever.

If you’re not too familiar with this high-school syllabus classic, here’s what happens. Macbeth, a Duke of Scotland, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Now a sufferer of sheer bigheadedness and ambition, and encouraged by his conniving wife, Macbeth murders his King and takes the throne for himself. What follows is a descent into madness; a slew of murders covering up murders until it turns into one giant bloodbath.

The film opens with a dusty, dark red sky, setting a solemn tone. In fact, the scenery is magnificent. Kurzel sticks to Shakespeare’s intended setting; the rolling hills of Scotland, where Macbeth (Fassbender) stumbles upon three human-like creatures, not clad with long nails, boils and bubbles as witches are so often depicted, but odd enough to know they are not quite human. And so the story of Macbeth begins.

Watching Fassbender as Macbeth, you begin to wonder whether Shakespeare wrote the role for him 400-odd years in advance. Each movement, thought and spoken word is perfectly executed, showing that Fassbender is truly one of the most adaptable and talented actors gracing Hollywood at present. Add in the fact that he had read the script more than 200 times before the cast’s first read-through and you’ve got yourself one hell of a performance.

Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth almost steals the show delivering one of the most recognisable soliloquies, “Out, damned spot” direct to the camera. A frenzied plea, acknowledging the power-couple’s political ambition has turned awry. Together, Fassbender and Cotillard make for a devilish and scheming, but also desperate couple.

A slow-motion fight scene offers a moment of reflection, as though through the eyes of Macbeth. Organs and deep strings swell, manipulating emotions and heightening senses. In what is tragedy followed by tragedy, Sean Harris as Macduff tops this sense of swelling hopelessness with an outstanding and gut-wrenching performance when all of what was his, is lost.

As always, the role of Lady Macduff is disappointingly brief and so was Elizabeth Debicki’s screen time. Debecki broke through into Hollywood in 2013’s The Great Gatsby. With her undeniable screen-presence, audiences are waiting to see her evolving into some larger roles.

For those not acquainted with the Scottish accent or the language of Shakespeare, it can be at times difficult to keep up with the plot. However, there is a rare skill in adapting a Shakespearean play, turning the material into something seemingly brand new. Kurzel has done this exceptionally and evokes emotions that will have you leaving the film feeling melancholic, but with a new (or continued) fondness for Shakespeare.

Macbeth screens in Australia from October 1st. For UK and US release dates check local listings.

Jayne Cheeseman


Review by Jayne Cheeseman.