By Will Barber – Taylor
I am in blood stepped in so far.
Macbeth is without doubt one of the greatest pieces of drama ever to be produced. A scintillating, engrossing, Machiavellian play it stands as one of the testaments to the genius of the Bard of Avon. Because of its length and the deep, psychologically charged plot it is a favourite amongst those who love Shakespeare in to the nth degree but also to those who enjoy a good gory thriller. Within the play, Shakespeare creates the ultimate fallen angel, the scared warrior, the former “noble Macbeth” who becomes a plotting, raging lunatic. Many adaptations have attempted to capture the full descent into madness and make it seem logical that a man who is thought of as a demi god can become such a vile villain. Even the famous Polanski never quite can convince us that this noble gentleman can become a violent, brutal killer. Yet Kurzel’s adaption manages just that.
From the opening visual banquet of the first scene to the last, bloody metaphor, Kurzel keeps his audience hooked. His cinematography is astonishing with the shots of the Scottish locations taking the breath away of anyone who sees it. He shoots everything is perfect detail creating misty, dark and brutal landscapes leap across from the screen and entrap its audience within it. Kurzel brings the shear brutality of battle in stark vision with simple yet effective camera angles combined with a mixture of quick, pacey editing which lend it to fight scenes. The skilful direction of the scenes during the opening are masterful; he combines close up shots of Fassbender as Macbeth with traditional long shot footage of the battle in slow mow to give the impression of Macbeth existing in a state of calm and the centre of the raging storm of the battle. The idea that Macbeth suffers from PTS is a theme which recurs throughout the film and starts off with the opening battle sequence. By showing Macbeth’s stillness within the raging battle which surrounds him, Kurzel is showing Macbeth’s isolation from his actions. Like many people who suffer from PTS he is disconnected from his actions; he is in a state of trance that fractures his mind. As Macbeth says himself later on in the film “Full of scorpions is my mind”.
Later on in the film, during Macbeth and Banquo’s meeting with the Witches, Kurzel brings a further mystic and ethereal weirdness to the Weird Sisters. While in some versions the Witches are the traditional crackling harpies, in this adaption Kurzel goes for a different approach; the Witches are very, very still. For most of the time when not speaking their lines they are silent, almost statue like figures swaying in the breeze. This creates an effect so that the Weird Sisters’ dialogue sinks in more. The absence of the traditional witch like qualities makes them more unpredictable and more disturbing as a result.
Kurzel combines this by mixing in different parts of Scottish history to help create a sense that the film is set in a hinterland; a time beyond time, an unmoving, flexible almost ethereal world. During the battle scenes, Macbeth and the other soldiers in Duncan’s army are seen wearing traditional Celtic war paint. The paint that was used in these types of battle could sometimes be hallucinogenic as it heightened the senses of those who wore it ready for battle which could explain Macbeth’s stillness in the middle of the battle; the terror of war mixed with the hallucinations he sees creates an impression of three strange creatures that beckon Macbeth to his doom.
Another mixing of cultures and times can be seen in the scene in which Macbeth is crowned King. While the men wear the traditional military based regalia that you would expect from the period that the story of Macbeth is set in, Kurzel gives an added twist by having the women present in the ceremony wearing ruffs. The ruffs are a clear call back, because of their small size and patterned texture to the Jacobean era in which Shakespeare wrote Macbeth; this helps create the timeless effect which can be felt in the film. It also nicely reflects and makes reference to the context of the original play; a warning against those who attempted the heretical act of regicide.
The acting in the film is of a wonderful quality; Fassbender stands out as Macbeth. His slow descent into madness is encapsulated during the scene in which he talks to Malcolm over the corpse of his father. You can see the insanity in his eyes, the almost wolfish delight at what he has done. Similarly Fassbender’s full vitriolic menace is shown during the infamous “Oh full of scorpions is my mind” scene. He plays up the full dark meaning of the line through the entire scene and his slithering movement reflects that of a snake, almost as if to say that Macbeth is not only being stung by scorpions but he is also becoming an animal.
Marion Cotillard’s scenes as Lady Macbeth are equally stunning. Cotillard shows off her full ruthlessness and manipulation of Macbeth during the scene in which she convinces him to kill Duncan. She uses her full cunning and sexual magnetism to get what she wants. This is then distorted later on in the film when she becomes afraid of what her husband has become and to a certain extent repulsed by his murder of Macduff’s family. Cotillard creates a nuanced Lady Macbeth; still striving for power but also a woman who can see that things have gone too far and doesn’t know how to deal with the situation that she has become part of.
Kurzel’s Macbeth is a career defining work for all those involved. It takes the play and presents a slick, effective and simplified version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece by taking the core of the play and expanding upon it to fit a modern cinematic audience. With the aide of stunning visuals and incredible cast Kurzel works a spell on anyone who sees his film making them hunger to watch the film again.