"By the pricking of thy thumbs, something wicked this way comes."
William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ has been adapted onto the big screen multiple times. Previous directors include filmmaking legends like Orson Welles, Roman Polanski and Akira Kurosawa have all tried their hand at creating a definitive cinematic version of literature’s ultimate anti-hero. Has the relatively unknown Australian director Justin Kurzel outdone them all?When the fearsome and respected warrior Macbeth (Fassbender) has a vision from three witches, prophesising his ascension to the throne of Scotland. This divinatory apparition sets the scene for manipulation, murder and madness.
I won’t claim to be an expert on the original Shakespeare play but I studied it in school like everyone else, and I know that the most common interpretation is that behind the crimes of Lord Macbeth lies the manipulation and influence of his wife Lady Macbeth. She persuades him into committing the acts that lead to his downfall (the story is five hundred years old, that is NOT A SPOILER). In this version however the focus drifts much closer towards the actual cause of Macbeth’s personal trauma and why he ultimately chooses to go along with her plans.
As opposed to the psychological horror style of Polanski’s version, this incarnation of the story focusses much more on the damage done to the character of Macbeth by his history in war and as a combatant. It pays attention to the emotional trauma that haunts the character and uses that as a source for his actions rather than purely motivated by his wife. That is just an aspect of a much more remarkable feat this version achieves, more than any other adaptation I’ve seen on the big screen. It shows the humanity behind Macbeth. It searches for it through even the most horrific of his crimes and questions why this desire for power becomes all consuming. To provide a motives it also needs to display that warfare in all of its blood-soaked glory. There are moments that seem reminiscent of ‘Braveheart’ and even ‘300’ with its use of slow motion, stylised backdrops and sheer epic nature in scope.
Fassbender is perfect for this role, with a ferocity that startles and frightens enough to make the role alienated from normal society in order to make his quest for power believable and consistent with his portrayal. But at the same time there’s a tenderness there that almost makes one sympathise with him, his glimmers of morality, inner turmoil and fear create something that resembles a tragic hero rather than a deranged tyrant, which is always the chief risk in this performance.Marion Cotillard is also brilliant as Lady Macbeth, sometimes delusional with dreams of power and authority that fails to shadow her own inner depression. There is an undeniable air of tragedy to her character as it slowly danws on her what she has helped initiate when her husband’s ambitions far exceed her own. As I said before there is much less of an accusation based approach to her character in terms of just how much she influences the events that transpire in the story. It is a unique interpretation but the downside is that she is slightly side-lined. Not to a great extent, but certainly more so than a traditional interpretation would. I’m still mixed over this decision, because once again it is an inventive one, but Cotillard is so fantastic in the role I can’t help but want more of that.
On a visual level it is utterly stunning, using the harsh and barren wilderness of Scottish moors to punctuate the harshness of events. The blood red skies, stone cold castles and eerie battleifelds help to highlight their interpretation of disturbance within its titular character. In some cases it deviates from the source material by letting emotions cross through on a visual level rather than a dialogue driven route.
Brutal and epic beyond perhaps any previous adaptation of ‘Macbeth’ this version offers many ingenious and inventive interpretations of the original source material such as the implication of PTSD from more than one source. More than that it feels completely cinematic in its depiction rather than limited to a stage on screen.