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British Film Review: MACBETH
Directed By Justin Kurzel
Genre: Period War Drama
We begin with a funeral. A departure from Shakespeare’s original play, and one which is crucial to understanding Kurzel’s adaptation. The family Macbeth are saying farewell to their dead child. This loss weighs heavily on the central characters, and over the course of the film. Kurzel has reimagined MACBETH as a story about post-traumatic stress, and positioned this heart-breaking moment as the catalyst that spirals Macbeth’s sanity on its fateful path to destruction.
Bookending the film are two immersive, violent and exhausting battles. Neither is exhausting in length, but the effect is exhausting nonetheless. Macbeth, accompanied by Banquo and his army, are exhausted from war. The opening battle may end the physical conflict, but the effects of war will continue to rage psychologically within Macbeth. From the first time we see Macbeth’s (Michael Fassbender) war ravaged face we know this man has seen too many battles, held too many dying men, and boys, in his arms. In contrast, King Duncan’s face looks neither ravaged nor weary. In the few scenes we share with King Duncan (David Thewlis), he comes across as a man who happily sends others off to die for his kingdom.
The final battle, fought between Macbeth and Macduff is equally exhausting. Both men look beaten by the events that have unfolded throughout the course of the story. Macbeth, shrouded in mist and smoke from the burning of Birnam Wood, is a man lost in his own insanity, his body as much as his mind struggling to cope with the weight of recent actions. Macduff, stricken with grief and driven by revenge as a victim of Macbeth’s insanity. It’s one of the most emotionally charged and visually stunning fights sequences of recent time, and both Fassbender and Sean Harris (who portrays Macduff) give it everything.
These two battles, are amongst of number of significant changes screenwriters, Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie and Todd Louiso, have made to the source material, that ensure this latest version is essential viewing.
Following Macbeth’s victorious battle, he is visited by the three witches. Accompanying them, in another reimagining of the bard’s play, is a young child. I couldn’t help but see this child as a manifestation of Macbeth’s lost child. There to taunt and remind the man of his loss. To help destroy any last vestige of sanity. They deliver him the prophecy of his future and shortly after the first of their pronouncements swiftly comes true. Macbeth’s fate is sealed.
Enter Lady Macbeth. Hearing of the news it is her that sets Macbeth on his murderous pursuit of his reign. Yet, the role Lady Macbeth plays in Kurzel’s version feels much more subdued, and she takes on supporting role to the post-traumatic stress, brought on by years of war and loss of a child, that propels this tragedy. In fact, Lady Macbeth is often aghast and shocked at her husband’s actions, particularly when his wrath falls on the family of a supposed defector. Played by Marion Cotillard impeccably, Lady Macbeth here is cast as much as a victim as Macbeth. Riven with grief from her lost child, you feel she is never seeing things clearly, and her final scene, which plays out alone in a church is one startling emotional heft.
Fassbender delivers as astonishing performance. His face as harsh as the cold, oppressive Scottish landscape. His descent into insanity is marked by paranoia, fear, anguish and jealousy. He dispatches his loyal friend, Banquo and is immediately haunted by his actions. He confines himself to his castle, and slowly, alone, loses any grip on reality he had. These scenes could have been difficult ones. Nothing much happens, other than Fassbender twisting and contorting his face and mindlessly pacing about his room, but you get a genuine sense of a man, with only time as his companion, beginning to understand the true meaning of Banquo’s early remarks following their visit from the witches “And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths,”
Macbeth is a visceral, emotional and stunning adaptation of Shakespeare’s great tragedy. One that combines the literary heft of the bard’s language with a truly cinematic reimaging. The film literally ends in blood smeared red, as the overwhelming events can no longer be contained by the film. Kurzel’s superb direction, Fassbender, Coutillard and Harris’ mesmerising performances, Adam Arkapaw’s breathtaking cinematography and Jed Kurzel’s thundering and inescapable score come together to deliver one of cinema’s great Shakespearean adaptations.
MACBETH is released on DVD 1 February 2016.
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