Whether on the screen or the stage, you can never have too much Shakespeare. The stories speak for themselves, they continue to resonate with modern audiences and offer themselves up for multiple interpretations. That being said, sometimes the best of the bunch are the ones that keep it traditional. That’s what the latest version of Macbeth has done, from Australian director Justin Kurzel and starring heavy-hitter Michael Fassbender as Macbeth with Marion Cotillard as his vicious, manipulative wife.
It’s strange to watch: it feels both slick and modern yet old-fashioned at the same time. This is Macbeth for the Game Of Thrones generation. The cinematography is beautiful, having been filmed in the Scottish Highlands, and is full of barren hills and towering mountains set to a fantastic soundtrack of war drums and haunting bagpipes. Shakespeare set his play in this bleak Scottish landscape, so that’s where they shot the film. To call it faithful would be an understatement; the language, the costume, the interactions between characters and the violence, everything is near-perfect for a big-screen adaption of one of the Bard’s most famous works. A Shakespearean scholar would find it hard to pick faults in this visceral interpretation.
With that in mind, it’s Fassbender who initially anchors the film, bringing a grim intensity to the role that makes Mel Gibson’s Braveheart look like a girl, arguably replacing him as THE cinematic Scottish warrior. He loses none of this even as his character descends into madness and treachery, subtly altering parts of his performance to show this, slouching and slurring words to show a man who is giving way to his darker instincts. And dark it is, from murdering his best friend Banquo (a bulked Paddy Considine) to setting fire to Macduff’s (Sean Harris) family, Macbeth is a villain that Fassbender sinks his teeth into and a world away from Magneto in the X-Men franchise.
Marion Cotillard stands just as strong as Lady Macbeth. The French actress brings an icy determination to the woman who sets her husband on this dark path but equally shows her vulnerability when his madness spirals out of control, especially when Fassbender looks at her, grinning and declares that ‘full of scorpions is my mind’.
To say that the film is intense would be an understatement. However, it is still Shakespeare and it’s not for everyone. The language remains faithful and hasn’t been updated at all, so some might find it hard to follow. There’s no mistaking Macbeth’s intentions as he plunges his dagger into Duncan’s stomach multiple times to a thundering drum beat in a shot swathed in red, it’s visual story-telling at it’s best. It may not be date-night material or easy watching in places, but Macbeth is certainly one of the finest film adaptions of a Shakespeare play in recent memory.