‘Be bold, bloody and resolute.’
The chances are you won’t be scheduling in this film for some light Friday night entertainment (if you are, well fair play. It takes many sorts to make a world.) You want to see Macbeth for its dark brooding plot (check), an examination of fatalism and master-level acting (double check). 2015’s version of Macbeth is quite like anything that has been seen before; becoming something both of our time and times past. Gone are the claustrophobic interior dialogues. They are instead, like the characters, exposed to the elements; then dwarfed and destroyed by them. This Macbeth belongs to the Scottish landscape, here which is cruel and brutal, again, like its characters.
The story is still the same: a warrior-noble man is informed of a prophecy that indicates he will become King of Scotland, is then pushed into regicide by this merciless formidable wife before descending into a world of psychotic delusion and pre-emptive murders. For the most part the screenplay is unaltered, with most speeches retained word-for-word. The most fascinating aspect of this new version is the new emphasis it places onto smaller moments of the play. Small beats are given volume louder than any of its filmic predecessors, offered a refreshing take on both story and characters. Gone is what often becomes a pantomime act of the central-duo, leaving behind what often becomes shouting of dialogue and wild gesturing and replacing it with a quieter sharper intensity. Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) is no femme fatale who squawks and savages her husband’s masculinity. Cotillard plays Lady Macbeth with a commanding vulnerability, a woman who utilises her insecurities for benefit instead of concealing them with rage and anger. Her famous ‘Unsex me here’ monologue, along with her rebuffing of Macbeth’s cowardice, is made all the more sinister by her demurity. By opening the film with a funeral, that of her young son, (a death which is only referred to briefly in the play) a sympathy is generated for her character, an attempt at a reasoning for what is to come.
This is used to similar effect with Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), and adds a dimension to his friendship with Banquo (Paddy Considine). Banquo has a young son who he is absolutely besotted by and is inseparable from. Whenever Macbeth is shown to be looking at the pair, a degree of jealously is implied, a bitterness of what may have been. Considering the witches’ prophecy declared Banquo’s heirs would later become king, it’s easy to see how Macbeth’s resentment turns into murderous intent. In fact Fassbender’s portrayal of Macbeth is so effective that it makes the majority of his actions more comprehensible than others who have taken the role. His take on ‘Is This A Dagger…’ is indelible, as his ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.’ How he carries the character is also intrinsic to his interpretation. The play refers to Macbeth’s status as a great warrior, but this if often under-played by adaptations. This version shows this and revels in his ferocity on the battlefield; his domination over his opponents successfully alludes to the malice underneath. His subsequent gradual submission into his own world of distraught instability has echoes of what would now diagnose as post-traumatic stress disorder. The childish ease at which he and his wife openly accept the prophecy of the witches seems almost explained by anguish twisted into an embittered for retribution.
The two central performances are cemented by the supreme skill and ability of the supporting cast; Sean Harris’ Macduff is an impassioned ball of rage, David Thewlis a benevolent Duncan and the witches combine to make an omniscient presence that haunts both screen and characters. The editing heightens the emotional tension generated by the cast; slo-mo is carefully and calculatedly integrated to great effect. The final dénouement is intensified with the mise-en-scene; the fire of the woods transplant the final battle into a world that is reminiscent of Hell, replicating the character’s diabolic emotional turmoil. The smoky reds and orange immerse Macbeth and create an unforgettable sequence that is intrinsic in its potency.
A delicate balance between subtlety and artifice results in a compellingly powerful piece of cinema. Fassbender and Cotillard where born to play these characters.