As a Shakespeare fanatic, I am somewhat used to the bard’s greatest work being butchered and sold down the river, so much so that walking into a film adaptation I fully expect to hate it. However, it is with great pleasure that I say Justin Kurzel’s bloody and brutal adaptation of Macbeth is unequivocally one of both style and substance.
Visually, this film is a masterpiece; you almost taste the ‘foul and filthy air’ as you are watching, but there is so much more to it than colour correction and a time lapse. The film draws out the subtle dynamics of the original play that are often lost amidst the blood and gore. For example, the signs of a present power struggle and lack of trust between King Duncan (played by David Thewlis) and his men, and Macbeth (played by Michael Fassbender), add a compelling dimension.
Macbeth’s war grief is symbolised by the ghost of an adolescent soldier who died in the battle for Scotland, and the allusive nature of the witches makes us question, as Banquo does in the original play, whether they are even there (‘Have we eaten on the insane root that takes the reason prisoner?’). There is an energy between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (played by Marion Cottilard), and she captures the concoxtion of naitivity, ambition and sexuality that is required for this demanding role.
So many actors and directors, both stage and screen, fall into the fatal trap of presenting Macbeth as a murderous, cold-blooded “butcher”. Fassbender, however, embodies the version of Macbeth’s character we can understand, the Macbeth who is buried inside us all; inside anyone who has considered doing something wrong in order to suceed, or anyone who has had a drunken meltdown a party (or banquet) while their best friend reassures everyone that it’s just the jager bombs, or humiliated themselves fighting for something rather than giving up with grace and dignity.
In Fassbender’s performance can be found the self-entitled and complex tragic hero that many seem to get so utterly wrong. As an audience, we are digusted by his hubris, brutality and tyranny, yet we are with him until the bitter end because of own our twisted hope. This adaptation has not quite usurped Penny Woolcock’s 1997 Macbeth on the Estate, and it may have divided opinion within my household (my mother despised every minute of it), but it is debate that has kept Shakespeare alive for so long. Macbeth is out in cinemas now.