Australian screenwriter and director Justin Kurzel’s second feature film which was written by screenwriters Jacob Koskoff, Todd Louiso and Michael Lesslie, is an adaptation of a play by a renowned English 17th century poet which is inspired by the life of a real person surnamed Findlaich. It premiered In competition at the 68th Cannes International Film Festival in 2015, was shot on locations in England and Scotland and is a UK-France-USA co-production which was produced by producers Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Laura Hastings-Smith. It tells the story about a Scottish general who once upon a time, when Norwegian Viking and Norse settlers colonized Scotland in Scandinavian Scotland (800s-1500s) and the Swedish Kingdom, was approached by three clairvoyant witches who through their whispering voices communicated to him that he would become King of Scotland, and the third witch said: “There to meet with Macbeth.”
Macbeth is a well known story of ambition, murder, rage and tyranny but what I was looking for in Justin Kurzel’s interpretation was a connection that an uneducated sloth like myself could get from a tale that had four hundred years of retelling. I wanted to feel the characters emotions and I wanted to visualise their world. I wanted to be able to identify Macbeth’s tragic blind ambition and lust for power. More importantly, I wanted a tangible belief in the story being presented to me. Kurzel knows his audience well, because he has directed one of the greatest Shakespearean plays ever put onto film. The brutal and bloody world that Kurzel has visioned, creates an authentic and powerful atmosphere that never deserts the viewer, allowing the famous story to illustrate itself effortlessly across the screen.
Michael Fassbender (Macbeth), plays the character to perfection and it is his performance alone that makes it easier for the common man to understand Shakespeare’s historic language. Fassbender is thoroughly engaged in his role and every word he delivers oozes emotion. Marion Cotillard is equally impressive as the conniving Lady Macbeth. Cotillard was an interesting choice to play the femme fatal, but she has proved here that she can rise to any challenge. This performance is a very colourful feather in a exceptional cap. Her Lady Macbeth helped me to realise that she became somewhat of a victim to the King she had created. “What is done, is done.” The supporting turns from David Thewlis as King Duncan, Sean Harris as Macduff and Paddy Considine as Banquo are also all fantastic.
Still, I would have liked to understand more of the dialog on first viewing and I think that there were ways to accomplish that without losing the beauty of the language, but this adaptation is outstanding either way. It would be unfortunate if the characters speaking in old English kept anyone from choosing to see this film, which excels on multiple levels. A visual style and staging that is unique and new, photography that can be liked or disliked but has to be recognized for its technical flawlessness by Adam Arkapaw (who is slowly becoming my favourite cinematographer out there). A soaring score that perfectly encapsulates the horror on screen. Justin Kurzel really comes out as a victor here, because his choices can be appreciated or turned down, but he clearly emerges as a having a true vision.
Macbeth gets a 7.8/10.