Shakespeare and film seem to have quite an interesting mix, sometimes with the latter mirroring the source material very well, and other times taking new visualisations of it. It is an area that will most likely never fade away, and 2015’s interpretation of “Macbeth” makes for some interesting discussion.
I should start with saying I went into this having never read the play or studied it – “Hamlet” was chosen for us in school. So you can imagine what a strange introduction to the story this Film4 backed production was. Set during the times of rebellion and clan battles in Scotland, Michael Fassbender (woo!) takes spot in the lead role as the very skilled, but clearly deranged Macbeth. He is loyal to the sitting King and wins an important battle,but the apparition of three women prophesising his ascension to the throne both motivates, and unsettles him. His wife (Marian Cotillard) is very keen on this idea and entices Macbeth down the dark and dangerous path to gain power.
Firstly, I must apologise that I cannot give a better synopsis of this story, but meeting the source material for the first time here means that there was a lot to take on board all at once. Also, this is a very artistic and visual representation of the play that doesn’t exactly guide you through the finer details. Having said that, the visuals are immensely striking and beautifully composed. Colour plays a big role through the Acts as well as dream-like sequences filled with meaning and imagery that sticks in your mind. Just the setting in Scotland takes your breath away, but the director and camera team clearly has a visual aesthetic they were aiming for from frame one, and it gives the movie a character that really stands out.
There is a heavy, lade tone that seeps into every corner of the film, as something to cheer you up on a dreary day this is probably not one to reach for. But at the same time, you have to appreciate how surprisingly well Shakespeare’s material resides next to the visuals. This is helped along by the performances of the cast who really pinned down their individual characters. But Michael Fassbender is the star of the show. Determined and noble, but on the decent into madness, you see each step of the mental collapse in striking detail. His delivery of the narrative and facial emotions combine to gives a truly stunning performance. Don’t get me wrong, every cast member adds to the movie, but he is the big cog in the complex mechanism that everything rotates about.
Even though there is a deep well of meanings and discussion brimming under the surface that Shakespeare fans will dive right into, the base storyline is one that is pretty easy to keep up with, and is filled with some great moments of tension as well as character pieces. The battle scenes are limited but effective in translating the brutality, and the set designs on location feel very authentic. The final battle is a highlight though, both choreographed and captured in a superbly brutal manner. One big aspect is the mysticism and symbolism of the three women who appear, and at times their scenes do feel very eerie. You are following the story but at the same time, questioning whether what is happening is coincidence, or foretold.
One thing I will admit to, is that as an introduction to the material and story, this isn’t the most straight-forward version you could choose. I had some difficulty at times reading into what was being said, the double-meanings, and what a few scenes were placing emphasis on. You could point out that I myself was to blame and I should have looked into one of the classic versions before seeing this. And you’re probably right. But I didn’t have the time unfortunately, and I will at least mention it here for others that you should either pay super-close attention to this film, or go in wised up.
So, how to rate this version of “Macbeth”? Even with my difficulties I had no trouble at all observing that this was produced to a very sharp edge, with a distinctive visual trademark of its own that learned fans will either find issue with, or deeply enjoy. For me, I found it a great movie experience, with performances by actors and actresses who really got sucked into their characters and motives. The Scottish is a gorgeous as it ever was, and it is kind of refreshing to see some classic material make it onto the big screen once again. If you love Shakespeare, I think that this should have a spot on your shelf. For newcomers, you’ll have more than enough here to get lost in. And by that I mean, lost in the good way.
Thanks for reading!