The Watchers

The Watchers

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Review: Macbeth (UK Cert 15)

In the UK especially, Macbeth is often the first exposure schoolchildren get to Shakespeare (as it's often used as a set text for school exams). The story is well known: Macbeth gets supernatural premonition of greatness, gets egged on by his ambitious wife, murders the king and then it all goes to pot. On film, the seminal version of 'the Scottish Play' is generally considered to be the dark and disturbing 1971 version directed by Roman Polanski. Here, Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) directs a bloody, bold and resolute re-telling of one of Shakespeare's most popular plays.

Michael Fassbender is the titular thane and he's damn good at portraying what is a complex character on paper but can often be written off as a crazed tyrant. Some of the dialogue is spoken as internal monologue as Fassbender broods upon the actions he's committed and plans to commit. Marion Cotillard is very impressive as Lady Macbeth, another complex character often boiled down. There's a scene that's been added at the beginning which can go to explain the mental state of the two characters- plus also gives weight to one of the big questions academics always ask about the play. Lady Macbeth's descent from ambitious bitch to madwoman is cannily played and Kurzel makes a canny directorial decision in just focusing on Cotillard's face whilst she delivers the 'sleepwalking' lines. It's a potent performance.

The rest of the cast are similarly strong. Happily, there's not an actor in the cast that speaks the words but doesn't know what they're actually saying; they all speak the Shakespearean language trippingly off the tongue. Paddy Considine is a solid presence as the ill-fated Banquo whilst Sean Harris gives a sterling turn as the avenging Macduff whilst David Thewlis makes an all-too brief appearance as Duncan. 

It's a brutal story told brutally. The opening battle scene spares nothing in the blood and guts state and the murder of Duncan is similarly unsparing. Macbeth does bad things and they are shown in unflinching detail (the dispatching of Lady Macduff and her children is particularly powerful). However, the film isn't perfect:  Kurzel employs the jerky camera movements which make me feel a bit seasick (quite annoying) and, sadly due to the virtue of necessity, some of the best pieces of verse/text are excised. The famous 'double double toil and trouble' witches scene is right out- in fact the witches get particularly shortchanged- and the arguments between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth before and after Duncan's murder get completely filleted. What's left is a taut telling of the main story but there's not a word or syllable wasted. 

In summary, it's worth seeing for the performances of Fassbender and Cotillard and some of the brooding cinematography (hats off to Adam Arkapaw), but by no means could this be considered a definitive version of the play.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


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