Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard star in Shakespeare's tale of treachery and murder.
"Kurzel helps to put his two actors at the top of their game."

There have been so many cinematic adaptations of the Scottish play that finding an original take on it might have seemed unlikely - but Australian Justin Kurzel has managed it with a bloody and violent epic scale production that has the feel of a Western mixed, perhaps, with a dash of Game Of Thrones (and none the worse for that).

Using its Scottish locations to powerful and atmospheric effect, the film is an assault on the senses and on any traditional expectations of how the Bard should be interpreted.

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The text has been radically trimmed but the great speeches remain, although in the first half of the film the dialogue suffers by barely being audible among all the noisy sturm und drang going on around us as we’re immersed in the thick of bare hand battles and sword fights.

With the inspired casting of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, Kurzel helps to put his two actors at the top of their game. Cotillard, in particular, displays Lady Macbeth’s anguish and grief to perfection and then turns it into the murderous ambition that is destined to goad her husband to his downfall.

Fassbender impresses too, especially in the “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech, and gives Macbeth vulnerability as well as enigmatic virility as his paranoia starts to seep into every fibre of his being and he sets off on the murderous rampage to bolster his position.

Kurzel rarely leaves the battlefield and its pitched violence which eventually transforms into a blood red fog of war - which definitely could have come from a Western.

Although the accents are variable with only some of the minor characters being filled by genuinely Scottish actors, this does not detract. Cotillard’s rendition with a slight French tinge suits her playing of the role as she conveys the most profound of emotions in glances, looks and gestures rather than words.

Kurzel has made sense of some of the play’s unexplained questions such as the couple’s childlessness by inserting a scene of a baby’s funeral to underline Lady Macbeth’s later allusions to breast feeding.

The director has found a really robust cinematic language to deal with one of the most familiar and oft-performed works of Shakespeare. He make us look at it all again with new eyes and deserves plaudits for sheer bravura effort.

Reviewed on: 23 May 2015
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Prophecy, treachery, murder and their consequences unwind in the Scottish Play.
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Director: Justin Kurzel

Writer: Jacob Koskoff and Michael Lesslie, based on the play by William Shakespeare

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jack Reynor, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Sean Harris

Year: 2015

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: UK, France, US


Cannes 2015

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