William Shakespeare is one of the most adapted writers in history, with an estimated nine hundred films based on his plays. In my opinion, I would say Macbeth is his mostly widely adapted. I’ve seen versions of it set in Soviet Russia, in the back streets of London and even one done with Team America-esque marionettes. But by far the best adaptation of the infamous play is the 1971 Roman Polanski version. Can the new adaptation, starring Michael Fassbender reach the heights of the much watched 1971 version?
Macbeth stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis and Paddy Considine and is directed by Justin Kurzel. Based on the William Shakespeare play of the same name, the film follows Macbeth (Fassbender) as three witches tell him he will one day become King Of Scotland.
The cast for Macbeth is spectacular, Along with the four top actors I named in the introduction, the film also features such great actors as Elizabeth Debicki (last seen in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Sean Harris and Jack Reynor (who we last saw in the woeful A Royal Night Out). It’s a stellar cast, and all of them perform Shakespeare’s lines with passion. The script hasn’t been modernised or updated, it’s a simple transition from stage to screen. In fact, the film feels more like a play than it does a film, with long takes of the actors performing their soliloquy’s out loud. It’s nice to see a film that isn’t afraid to keep the meddling of Shakespeare’s material to a minimum and just let the film play out.
The standout actor of the film though has to be Michael Fassbender. The man brings an entirely new take on the classic character, giving a much more battle-scarred approach to the role. The action scenes, which seem to all be performed by Fassbender himself is making me very excited to see him in next year’s Assassin’s Creed. Macbeth could almost be his audition piece, as he glares menacingly at his foes (in that assassin way) before coming in with his dual swords or his nifty twin daggers that are strapped to his arm.
This version of Macbeth is rooted much more in the battles than the supernatural elements that other adaptations have been based on. The very first scene after the title credits come up is of the battle that the play opens with, and it’s brutal. Fassbender roars like a madman as he races towards his enemies and just as the two opposing sides clash the film drops into slow motion, similar to Zach Snyder’s 300, and lets us watch the blood soaked action unfold.
The Director of Photography is Adam Arkapaw (the guy responsible for the six-minute long take in the first season of True Detective) and just like his television credentials, Macbeth looks stunning. I’ve already talked about the long soliloquy takes and the wide shot battle scenes, but just the establishing shots of the Scottish Highlands are incredible to look at. Another scene worthy of mentioning is the final battle that is surrounded by burning trees. The film basically becomes one giant red haze, with only the silhouettes of the actors outlined amongst the flames. It looks like something out of Dark Souls or The Cursed Crusade, and it’s awesome.
Jed Kurzel (brother of the director) returns to a Michael Fassbender production after their collaboration on Slow West and provides yet another amazing score. There are no stereotypical bagpipes here, it’s mainly violins and battle drums, each perfectly encapsulating the misty highlands and the war-centric story. I remember several times sitting in the movie theatre with a massive grin on my face when Kurzel’s music kicked in, punctuating certain scenes and bringing them to a higher level of filmmaking.
I did find some problems with Macbeth. For some bizarre reason, nearly every line of dialogue is spoken in a half-whisper by the cast. It’s like a weird game of Chinese Whispers, and it sometimes gets to a point where you are struggling to hear the actors speak their lines. Second of all, the first act simply drags on for way too long. I know that the first half is crucial to the story progressing but there was two times within the space of a minute where I did nod off for a couple of seconds. Luckily just as I was falling asleep an incredibly violent stabbing took place on screen (I don’t care if the play has been around for almost 400 years, still no spoilers) and it was the perfect remedy to wake me up for the rest of the film.
In summary, Macbeth is one of the greatest hack ‘n’ slash films since Gladiator. If you think you would be put off by the fact that it’s a true Shakespearian script don’t be, otherwise you’ll be missing out on quite possibly the most epic film of the year.
Score: 9/10 Dark, brooding, moody and blood-drenched, everything you want a Shakespeare play to be.