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.


Transformers: Age of Extinction

Director: Michael Bay (2014)

Hardcore fans may enjoy this fourth episode of the fighting robot franchise – but for everyone else it’s a long dull road to cinematic oblivion.

If you strip this film down to its component parts: alien robots, metal dinosaurs, spaceships and good performances by Marky Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci, it should be a lot of fun.

But it’s mangled construction means that no amount of flashy explosions – and there’s an awful lot of them – can jump start the story into life.

Since the Battle of Chicago the surviving autobots (the good transformers) and the decepticons (the baddies) have been hiding from the authorities, particularly sinister CIA boss Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer).

He’s teamed up with corrupt millionaire designer Joshua Joyce (Tucci) and they’ve hired mercenary transformer Lockdown (voiced by Mark Ryan) to hunt down the robot cars.

They plan to use the alien technology to build their own indestructible army.

Meanwhile struggling inventor Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) rescues a broken-down truck which turns out to be autobot leader Optimus Prime.

Along with Yeager’s useless daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her idiot boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) they’re soon on the run from Lockdown.

Beneath the special effects sheen there’s a clapped-out engine of mechanical dialogue, shoddy plotting and a repetitive structure of chases and fights.

Devoid of excitement, logic or wit, it lasts a brain melting and bum-numbing two hours and forty five minutes – but seems at least twice as long.

It screams along in second gear at a hundred miles an hour, culminating in another huge battle which includes three dinobots.

As far as autobots go, I’ve watched far more entertaining episodes of The Octonauts.

A Royal Night Out

Director: Julian Jarrold (2015)

A pair of incognito princesses roll out the barrel and celebrate VE Day among their unsuspecting subjects in this entertainingly light-hearted fictional romp.

It’s the evening of 8th May 1945 and the UK is having a right royal knees up. Heir to the throne Princess Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and younger sister Margaret (Bel Powley) are determined to join in the fun they can see from their palace window.

Their plan is drop in on the festivities in Trafalgar Square and head on to The Curzon Club before an crashing all night party at Chelsea barracks.

Margaret is the more wayward, wilful and ditzy of the two and happy to lead Elizabeth astray. In a switch from real-life, Margaret is presented as the more dowdy when compared to the raging beauty of Elizabeth.

It’s a lovely and lively comic performance by Powley who gives it plenty of royal welly. Gadon is ravishingly bewildered as her big sister.

There’s more than a hint of Cinderella and The Prince and the Pauper and it’s played with the infectious feel-good energy and saucy innocence of the original St Trinians movies.

Among much enthusiastic flag waving, fisticuffs and spiked drinks, there’s a pair of engaging central performances, some choice period dialogue, all manner of alarming accents and Glen Miller on the soundtrack.

Julian Jarrold has form with quality period drama having previously directed Great Expectations (1999) Becoming Jane (2007) Brideshead Revisited (2008). With energy and an eye for detail he convincingly recreates the foggy demob-happy delirium of the sepia-tinged era.

Sipping champagne and slipping their chaperones, the girls head to the teeming Trafalgar Square and adopt the names ‘Lizzie’ and ‘Mags’  – perhaps not travelling as incognito as they imagine.

Soon separated by the throng of celebrants, Lizzie must locate Mags and return her to the palace before midnight and the king realises they are missing.

The stammering King George VI is played by Rupert Everett haunted at every turn by Colin Firth‘s Oscar-winning role as the same character in The King’s Speech (2010). Everett also appeared in the successful if lacklustre St Trinians remakes.

His screen wife Queen Elizabeth the Queen mother is played by Emily Watson.

Unsure of her way around and naturally not carrying any cash, Lizzie falls in with a hunky working class airman called Jack (Jack Reynor).

She coyly persuades him to help her in her mission and he reluctantly agrees – even though her cloistered worldview keeps landing her republican-leaning would-be saviour in trouble.

Among the characters they encounter in the gambling dens and knocking shops of Soho are royalist gangsters, Scottish henchmen and warm-hearted whores. The British officers are weak-chinned, drunk, philandering incompetents – which seems fair enough.

If I ever thought the royals were this much fun in real life I’d almost consider voting for them.