MacBeth

Director: Justin Kurzel (2015)

This bold and bleak adaption of Shakespeare‘s Scottish play is violent and visually arresting but curiously unmoving.

A moody, macho and masochistic Michael Fassbender frets for a couple of hours upon the stage.

He drips with menace and blood and there is much sound and fury.

After serving his King by quelling an insurrection, Macbeth encounters three witches who prophesy a royal future.

Encouraged by his wife he murders his way to the throne, and becomes consumed by madness.

A macabre tone is struck from the start with the burial of an infant. Among the battles, murders, ghosts, and witches, the rural feudal society is chillingly and chillily realised.

The relentless rain-lashed realism captures the grim hardships of the era, but there is also beauty is the landscapes, a children’s chorus and the craftsmanship of cloaks and daggers.

Fiona Crombie’s strong production design offers fine detail and heavy weathering, anchoring the actors in the period.

It’s a consistent vision, utilising wild exteriors in what was a gruelling shoot for cast and crew.

Interiors were filmed in the magnificent and contemporaneous Ely Cathedral.

Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw frames some lovely images but fellow Australian, director Kurzel rarely use his camera to fully bring out the drama of the verse.

The pair are stronger on the hoof, creating some terrific moments in battle and in the hunt.

Kurzel’s brother Jed adds to the tone with an unsettling screeching soundtrack.

Three writer’s have acceptably trimmed Shakespeare’s verse. But it’s sadly compromised through frequently flat recital, caught within beards or lost thick fog of a Scots brogue.

There’s also tendency by most of the men to employ a throaty whisper as often as possible, so we have to strain for understanding.

Only Englishman Sean Harris as Macduff and the French actress Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth offer engaging readings. Both characters are motivated by grief for lost children.

Elizabeth Debicki has a moment on fire but David Thewlis, Jack Reynor and Paddy Considine seem oddly removed from events around them.

Shakespeare put humour in his tragedies to emphasise his antagonists’ fall and make their doom compelling.

As Fassbender’s Macbeth moves from military machine to murderer to madman, the actor fails to find the humanity.

Devoid of love, humour or a conscience to lose or regain, the tragedy is missing in action.

What remains is a blood-soaked slog through the fog of 10th century war.

 

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