“When shall we three meet again?” The iconic line opens one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated tragedies, Macbeth. A blood-soaked tale of ambition, murder, revenge and guilt. Yet in Kurzel’s adaptation, these first words are barely uttered before we know that what we are about to watch is a special film. From the first scene of Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) burying their child in the bleak, barren, but beautiful moors of Scotland, there is this raw emotion encompassing the film. It is a powerful, hypnotising and profoundly stunning piece of art.
However, Kurzel’s adaptation is not overthought or overworked. The arthouse aspects of the film are not imposing. It does not force your focus to symbolism and imagery, but essentially highlights the beauty and power of the original script and play. No matter how shocking and bold in its moments, the whole film is humble and modest in its approach to the play. It understands the weight and significance of the material it is dealing with. It appreciates the talent and quality of acting it carries through Fassbender and Cotillard. However, it is never ostentatious or overreaching as an adaptation. In short, unlike some other arthouse films, it never believes it is better than it is. But it is so much better than you ever would have thought. I’ve seen many adaptations of Macbeth, screen and stage, and it is my favourite Shakespeare play, if not my favourite play ever. However, watching this film it was like I had never heard the story before. Lines and words I had heard and studied over and over again seemed new to me. The entire approach was original; scenes took on new meanings and evoked new emotions. This is why the film is truly thoughtful and intelligent. It was fresh, natural and beautiful.
Moreover, the quality of the filming itself is so good it matches the quality of writing and acting. The camera plays as important a part as Fassbender’s acting or Shakespeare’s script. It appears as if Macbeth was written for the screen, and for me, this film supersedes any stage or screen adaptation I’ve ever seen (even that of McKellen and Dench). It is utterly staggering and breathtaking as a visual spectacle. Its combination of the intimate, candlelit churches and tents with expansive castles and battlefields creates these brilliant contrasts so that the audience is never settled, they are always on the edge of their seat, surprised and captivated.
The acting itself is mesmerising. Fassbender and Cotillard’s chemistry as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is unparalleled. There is power and presence in both their performances, but what really makes their portrayals outstanding is the overall fragility and rawness they bring to the characters. They evoke a deep sense of empathy from the audience, as a couple desperately clinging onto power and control to distance themselves from grief and pain.