Power, betrayal and fate: with strong central themes like these it’s no wonder that Macbeth has become one of the most adapted Shakespeare plays on the silver screen. Yet while director Justin Kurzel is re-treading ground covered many times before, his Macbeth (2015) manages to be one of the freshest adaptations of the original prose ever seen – a raw, atmospheric film that doesn’t shy away from the true horror of Shakespeare’s tale.
Revelling equally in both the beauty of the sweeping Scottish landscapes and the underlying grittiness of the play, Kurzel throws us headfirst into Shakespeare’s world, enveloping us in a palpable realism felt in every frame. It is a tone that has us gripped from the instant we enter the vast and muddy battlefield alongside Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), right up until its final bloody act. Sticking closely to the plot of the original text yet playing around with certain aspects of the story, writers Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie and Todd Louiso bring new meaning to moments we’ve seen hundreds of times before, making it feel like you’re watching this tale for the first time, no matter how familiar you are with it.
While this is a much looser adaptation, Kurzel remains faithful to the poetry and rhythm found in Shakespeare’s words by creating a slow yet mesmerising pace to the action. This gives certain moments an almost dreamlike aspect, in particular the many gory fight scenes, those beautiful landscape shots, and whenever the witches appear to Macbeth to tell him more about their prophecy that he will become King, the very event that drives him and his wife (Marion Cotillard) to commit murder. These surreal sequences combine with the ominous, atmospheric score and that brutal realism found throughout to create an almost hypnotic characteristic to the film, something that again makes this a wholly unique and compelling adaptation of the text.
Further adding to that spellbinding quality is the cinematography, the magnificent visuals as equally important as the plot and the Bard’s beautiful words. Indeed, this Macbeth revels in the silence as much as those famous speeches, the writers building the tension between lines while Kurzel creates image after stunning image, all of which looks gloriously sharp and cinematic on this Blu-ray disc. When you reach the final scene – an incredible nightmarish battle in which the screen is soaked in fiery red – Kurzel’s Macbeth will have truly burrowed its way into your brain in a way few films can.
When we aren’t being drawn in by those spectacular visuals though, we are being utterly entranced by the performances – the beating heart of any Shakespeare production. Michael Fassbender absolutely excels as Macbeth, the actor perfectly portraying the inner conflict of this guilty character. His slow and inevitable descent into madness is equally profound, Fassbender particularly impressing during the dinner scene in which his conscience gets the better of him and he is visited by a ghostly presence.
A performance such as this could have been hard to play against, but Marion Cotillard truly shines opposite him. Lady Macbeth is always a tricky character to portray – a woman who persuades her husband to commit murder, often coming across as downright evil in some productions. Therefore it is a relief to find that in Kurzel’s adaptation Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth is made surprisingly (and rightly) more sympathetic, something that is helped by the addition of an entirely new introductory sequence which sheds light on both her and her husband’s tragic past, an intriguing moment later echoed in two other equally horrific and gut-wrenching scenes. However it is Cotillard’s stoic yet emotional performance that predominately adds to this alternative depiction of Lady Macbeth, her remorse palpable onscreen when she realises the true extent of her actions. Never has the, “Out, damned spot!” scene felt so heartbreaking.
Both actors talk in detail about these new elements of their characters in the plentiful and informative extras on this Blu-ray disc, which also features director Justin Kurzel discussing the challenges he faced with bringing such an iconic story to the screen, and also updating it for our times. Iconic it may be, but even those familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth will have forgotten they’ve ever read or seen it by the time they reach the end of Kurzel’s film. An invigorating script and captivating performances breathe new life into the Bard’s tale, while expert direction from Kurzel and astonishing cinematography focuses on the beauty and brutality of Shakespeare’s world. With an incredible, mysterious ending that leaves events open to interpretation, this is a film that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.