Film review: Macbeth
by Daphne Liddle
Directed by Justin Kurzel; starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki and David Thewlis. 113 minutes.
THIS IS a very powerful film which definitely benefits from being seen on the big screen. It is shot in chiaroscuro through the ever changing rain and mist against a backdrop of the glorious Scottish landscape, in which characters emerge from the mist, say their piece, do their deeds and then merge back into the mist.
The Bard’s original play has been edited a bit but all the important scenes are there, showing the familiar story of a good man, nudged by prophesy from the three witches, into ambition and an opportune murder that will set him on the throne and on the road to hell.
Once he has committed the crime he must cover up by committing more and more shocking murders until he has become a paranoid tyrant.
The play opens with the “Battle of Ellon”, close to Cruden Bay where in a real battle in the 11th century the Scots under their King Malcolm II (father of the King Duncan in the play) defeated an attempted Norwegian Viking invasion led by young Canute, later to become King of England.
A couple of scenes are changed from the original – the murder of Lady MacDuff and her children, as revenge for MacDuff’s defection to the camp of Malcolm, son of the murdered King Duncan, is not in her castle at Firth. Instead Macbeth has them captured and brought to be burnt at his castle at Dunsinane. This is a scene that drives Lady Macbeth insane with horror and guilt.
And in the final battle where Birnam Wood “comes to Dunsinane” it is not carried as branches for camouflage but set on fire and comes as fire, red smoke and a cloud of ash so that the final battle between Macbeth and MacDuff happens in a fiery red haze.
Throughout the film there are bystanders standing still, wrapped in long black cloaks against the wind and rain – impossible to distinguish man from woman – like a Greek chorus, witnessing everything.
The three witches are also dressed in long black cloaks pulled tightly about them. There is no Hecate but there is a girl of about eight-years-old with them. They appear from the mist, say their piece and disappear back into the mist.
In the final scene, after Macbeth is killed by MacDuff, Fleance, a young boy and son of the murdered Banquo, appears and picks up Macbeth’s sword – hinting that one day he will be king and be the founder of a long line of kings – including James I of England and VI of Scotland – for whose benefit Shakespeare wrote the play.
The three witches then appear, take a good look, turn and walk away with an air of “job done”.