Twitter Plot Summary: The Scottish Play gets another big screen treatment, this time at the bloodstained hands of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.
I’ve long been a fan of “The Scottish Play”, ever since studying it at school when I was 12 or 13. It has all of the elements that a growing lad needs for entertainment. Violence. Drama. Intrigue. Scotland. Well, perhaps not necessarily the last one, although by all accounts it’s a lovely place on the whole. Suffice to say, I’m very much a fan of this play in particular above and beyond the majority of Shakespeare’s other works, but that may have something to do with the fact it was the first one I read in any great detail.
For anybody who has been living under a rock for the last 400 years, Macbeth is set in Scotland and in its original form is a near contemporary account of the titular Macbeth and Macduff as set out in Hollinshed’s Chronicles. It is a tale of greed, betrayal and death and one that has resonated with audiences for centuries.
Following an important battle against those rebelling against Duncan’s rule, Macbeth (Fassbender) encounters a trio of witches who promise that he will be king. Led on by this prophecy and the urgings of his ambitious wife Lady Macbeth (Cotillard) he then kills the current king, Duncan, and ascends to the throne. Then jealousy and mistrust sets in, leading to his inevitable downfall.
What all subsequent adaptations must do of course is carve their own path, to do something unique and a little different with the source material compared with other productions. What this 2015 adaptation of Shakespeare’s tale of bloodlust, power and glory has going for it are some glorious Scottish locations and the heavy, brooding atmosphere it creates alongside the already deep and intense storyline.
If I was to level any criticism to the production, it would be down solely to my own previous encounters with the play and my expectations that were built as a result. As such, for me there was some important lines of dialogue cut that would have helped bolster Macbeth’s initial uncertainty about committing murder – although with that said, the suggestion in this production is that once the deed is done Macbeth has already made amends with his actions and commenced the slippery slope into madness. I also had some concern with Lady Macbeth’s own mental decline as I don’t believe that this was as adequately presented as perhaps it could have been. Still, the opening sequence of the Macbeths cremating their dead child is a strong prelude to the events that follow. Grief is a powerful emotion after all.
What it does have going for it, however, is some stunning cinematography and directorial choices from Adam Arkapaw and Justin Kerzel respectively, as well as standout performances from both Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. I’ll forgive the fact that both of their accents never want to settle on the Scots accent they were aiming for, Cotillard in particular ending up with a distinct English accent. As far as the cinematography is concerned, slow motion moments, vast swathes of mist and a fiery conclusion all add up to something that has a very distinctive visual appeal, one that doesn’t get in the way of the story and performances but instead complements them both incredibly well.
Macbeth has a strong story and it would take a massive error of judgement on the filmmaker’s part to produce something that wasn’t engaging. Thankfully this production has all of the requisite parts that you would hope for, visually lush and backed up by actors who are fully invested in their characters.