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Macbeth is all style over substance that pushes the meaning of adaptation too far that would leave even Shakespeare questioning what the premise of the film is. Not even the majestic and mesmeric performance of Michael Fassbender can rescue this film from the madness it descends into.
Macbeth needs no introduction as the play by Shakespeare with the premise that ruthless ambitious leads to its own destruction. Justin Kurzel takes his turn, just as Orson Welles, Polanski and Kurosawa have gone before, in adapting and directing a play that contains so many iconic and important characters that have in turn inspired so many characters in modern English literature. In the casting Marion Cottilard as Lady Macbeth his adaptation faltered. For she was not mad, bad or dangerous enough for Macbeth to be married to. Her diction was terrible and whilst all around her spoke with authentic enough sounding Scottish accents she whispered and rasped her lines in her accented French. Also, where was the passion – it was lacking. Where was the woman who goaded her husband into killing the king and told him to man up by saying ”what’s done is done”. I can tell you she wasn’t in this film.
The director along with the screenwriters seems confused about the premise of Macbeth. It is “ruthless ambition leads to its own destruction” and yet from the opening scene of the film he seems determined on trying to explain away Macbeth’s descent into madness as some sort of insanity brought on from the loss of a child or PTSD for the cool kids amongst us. We know that Macbeth lost a child and Lady Macbeth makes reference to it in the original play but the opening scene is an image too far and unnecessary. Herein lies the fundamental problem I have with the film, in tinkering with the premise and trying to mitigate Macbeth’s action by way of a soldier suffering from PTSD it confuses what the film is about. Is Kurzel asking the audience to feel sorry for Macbeth? Adapt by all means using new and innovative methods but once you go too far what you have is an original film loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Kurzel’s voracity and failure to reflect and be slightly more nuanced is to his detriment.
The stop start almost 3000 film inspired sequence of the battle scenes were too much. Kurzel seemed bent on showing every technique he had learnt at film school. This was a shame as less is more. The rolling scene straight from star wars streaming history but instead of a galaxy far away we were told battle of Ellon and King Duncan had given Macbeth the last of his men. Providing the audience with brief history of what had happened for those that couldn’t fathom that bloody battles usually mean some sort of war gives a hint of who this film is aimed at. The stylised version of the film should come as no surprise as Justin will be directing Assassin’s Creed yet all this imagery and chopping up and playing around with Shakespeare takes away from the power of the play. The out damn spot was laughable with Lady Macbeth appearing to look into space with no hands in sight and for me was akin to having Hamlet start his existential soliloquy of: “to be or not to be” without the skull. It just doesn’t work.
However, this is Shakespeare light for the xbox generation who cannot hold their attention long enough to listen to the wonderful dialogue but need images and everything spelled out.
There are bright spots in the film namely the cinematography awash with vibrant colours. Also Kurzel’s decision to film Macbeth mostly outside captures the harsh, 12th century setting of this film. The Weird sisters as well as an outstanding and stellar supporting cast including: David Thewlis as Duncan, Sean Harris as MacDuff and Paddy Considine as Banquo lifts this film. Michael Fassbender provides what is surely an award winning performance. When Macbeth’s final descent into madness happens Fassbender shows his range as an actor and his delivery of the original Shakespearian lines is pitch perfect.
If Macbeth is your favourite out of all the Shakespare’s plays then view this as an original film inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth rather than a true adaptation. Or maybe I am wrong and misunderstood as Pollock was when he first came along and people will see and appreciate it for the art it is.
Macbeth is out in cinemas on 2 October.