Michael Fassbender. Have your loins been stirred enough yet? Now imagine him clothed in a dressing gown, with a full grown beard, eyeliner applied and spouting his best Shakespearean with a Scottish accent, directly after he has gifted multiple stab wounds to the man dying at his feet. This is the guarantee that the latest film incarnation of the famous play will provide you.
This 400-year-old piece stands as one of William Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies. Compared to other works, there are surprisingly few adaptations for The Scottish Play. Among them include Ian McKellan in 1978, James McAvoy in 2005, Patrick Stewart in 2010 and now Michael Fas… oh my, they’re all Professor X or Magneto from the X-Men films, whoa. Starting the #shakespearewasamutant hashtag right now.
If you haven’t delved into the blood-soaked pages of Macbeth, here’s a quick recap: a powerful man hears of a prophecy about becoming king. A powerful woman goads him on. He knifes the leader and has to spill a lot more blood to stay there. No wait, that’s the leadership of Australia – oops, sorry.
Anyway, this new interpretation actually comes from one of South Australia’s finest, Justin Kurzel, best known for the grisly Snowtown and the upcoming Assassin’s Creed adaptation (which is set to star the same leads). For a fairly small-time director, he deftly handles this prestigious title, breathing life into the play and proving that arthouse cinema can make an Elizabethan play new and relevant.
Unfortunately, the symbolism was a bit too in-your-face in the final battle, with the red drenched colour palette making it hard to see anything at all. Luckily, the moors of Scotland have never looked quite as good thanks to fellow Aussie Adam Arkapaw as cinematographer. Rounding up production is Kurzel’s brother, Jeff, providing a haunting soundtrack that compliments the emptiness of the scenery.
But really, this movie could’ve been named The Michael Fassbender Show and I would’ve been none the wiser. His insane portrayal really does own the screen; any scenes without him seem like a waste of time. Whilst the lead character is usually portrayed as the antihero, Fassbender has turned him into a full blown villain. It’s a pity that he’s such a tour de force – it overshadows the performances of his great co-stars, including Paddy Considine as the loving father and friend Banquo, and Sean Harris, the arguably more tragic-than-thou figure, MacDuff.
The largest overshadowing, I feel, is of Marion Cotillard. Here is an Oscar winner playing one of the most powerful, manipulative wives from fiction, and instead of influencing the King’s major decisions, she mostly satiates his sexual desires. Her sole monologue is one of the standout scenes in the feature, but it differs slightly from the source material and her craziness isn’t nearly on the same level as her husband’s.
Whilst this has relatively few, no screen version of a Shakespeare work is without differences to the original. A large amount of effort has gone into replicating the speech, clothing, weaponry and locations. It makes you wonder why it was necessary to cut out portions of the script, yet add a couple of dead children to the protagonist and an extra young girl to the Three Witches.
The minor faults may stick out, but this really is a motion picture worth watching. Come for the Fassbender, stay for the Fassbender.
By Connor Harvey
Originally published in Curieux Issue 3, 2015.