Kurzel’s Macbeth is a mastery of film, but still true to Shakespeare’s original storytelling.
The cinematography is not a feast; it’s a banquet. Sustaining the theatrical element of Shakespeare’s masterpiece with blushing red smoke, camera-facing monologues and hyperbolic language, Macbeth appeals both to die-hard traditionalists and to curious millennials alike. Although, I will admit, I didn’t understand most of what was said in the film, I was never lost (and, unlike many, I haven’t studied the play before). The acting conveys what words confused. I will echo what many reviewers have already said: Fassbender was born for this – but then, so was Colittard. The two of them had such intense chemistry that you could follow the story through their pain, anguish and spite and still manage to maintain empathy for what atrocities they were committing. When Macbeth murders King Duncan, you see insanity in Fassbender’s eyes. “My mind is full of scorpions,” he says later, laughing. Lady Macbeth is, in Colittard’s portrayal, the first scorpion that poisons Macbeth. Her later performance, crying in a sleeping state and speaking to her dead child following the realisation of her husband’s far-gone madness, is one of the best performances I have ever seen. If she receives nothing less than an Oscar, I and legions of fans will protest. It was a delivery of miraculous perfection.
Scotland for Shakespeare was the perfect place to play out this tragic tale and Kurzel keeps it: the opening scene of Macbeth’s dead son burning on a pyre marked such tragedy, but the rugged setting continued it. With exposed rocks, sprawling fenlands and dark, dramatic weather, the tone was constantly fractious. You could feel the unstable psychological tremors from the blood-thirsty couple in the smoke and wind, in the heavy-handed percussion that climaxed at uncertain points; what would happen? You didn’t know because the characters followed no human pattern. Their sanity had tethered beyond control and it was mirrored in the changeable nature of the Scottish scene bolstered by Jed Kurzel’s score.
Aside from the brilliant casting and expert use of pathetic fallacy, the human element that Kurzel brings by drawing upon modern psychotic diagnosis makes Macbeth relevant to the modern audience. In the context of Macbeth as a damaged war-hero, ravaged by post-traumatic stress disorder, Fassbender could explore his character and relationship with the witches and the ghosts of his murdered brothers-in-arms without seeming ridiculous, something that would have been easy to do in the hands of the wrong director. It never seems silly or the result of stupid beliefs of an age past, but real, raw, hypnotic even.
My elaborate use of adjectives is a testament to the emotionally-heavy portrayal of Macbeth. The stripped back, ironically un-decadent setting of Middle-Age Scotland, left opulence only for the acting. It cannot be described without reference to the feelings it inspires. You experience something rare,the mark of a good film: involvement. This may be the result of my confusion over the script itself, but I think it was definitely something Kurzel considered.
Macbeth, simply put, is a cinematic experience unlike any other.