I love movies. I love writing about them. Hope you like reading what I write.
Isn’t it odd that it’s taken this long for “The Scottish Play” to be adapted with Scottish accents? No, it didn’t count when Ian McKellen did it. A “Mc” in your name doesn’t a Scot make.
Macbeth is one of William Shakespeare’s best known and shortest plays. It is one of the finest works in the English language and has been put to screen 16 times since the 9 minute silent film version made in 1908.
With so many varying interpretations, one would think that the tragedy would be a relatively simple production to put on. I mean, the play is 404 years old, we should be pretty good at doing it by now.
Justin Kurzel, director of this particular film, has done something incredible. He has <GASP> changed the play!
This is not an entirely new phenomena. While Shakespeare is the 16th and 17th Century equivalent of Quentin Tarantino, his works were very much made for the performance in which they were played originally and not for the screen. The most expensive seats in the Globe Theatre in his day were above the stage, where one could barely see what was happening. It was Shakespeare’s command of language which kept him afloat. That’s why when one reads or sees his plays performed, there are pieces of dialogue describing what we’ve just seen, as if a radio play.
Kurzel and the film’s three screenwriters here have taken the Immortal Bard’s work and not condensed it, not changed its central themes, not simplified its language, but adapted it to the screen. That involved removing unnecessary scenes and lines, reordering some of the others and generally adjusting to the setting and tone that is being shown here. That takes a lot of guts.
Did it pay off? Let’s dissect it and find out.
First of all, let’s talk about our anti-hero of the evening, Macbeth, of course. Here he’s played by Michael Fassbender who doesn’t give a Shakespearean style performance, but more of a deep growl through his soliloquies which I know for a fact annoyed some of the people I watched this with. I didn’t annoy me. Fassbender once again shows us that he can not only replace Ian McKellen in pretty much any performance he ever did, but do it with a grit that melds directly into this world. I am still trying to work out how I feel about Macbeth the character, both in the play and in this movie and this ambiguity is further fueled by a superb turn by this Irish-German Scot impersonator.
When I saw the simply brilliant trailer for this movie, I was only concerned by one thing; was Marion Cottilard a good fit for Lady Macbeth? Yes. Yes she was. She absolutely knocks it out of the park. Her whispers and sharp Englishy Scottishy tones along with her impressive stance lends itself to the venomously ambitious wannabe Queen.
I mentioned near the beginning of this review that there was a silent film based on Macbeth over 100 years ago. That’s an interesting point as I would say that this film is in some ways silent. Obviously we have swathes of beautiful language, but so much of the poetry that makes me want to revisit this film again is visual alongside in its dialogue.
Remember Apocalypse Now? (Obviously if you haven’t seen it, you won’t and if you have seen it you do, it’s so phenomenally unforgettable.) The ending to that film is built up over the course of the film with so much talking and action and visual wonder and yet when it comes to it we see naught but beautiful shadows as the biblically thick subtext explodes in a bloody finale. That’s a lot like Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth. The writing knows precisely when to rely on the rich cinematography of the D.P Adam Akapaw who captured the Isle of Skye to represent Glamis through poetry of images and the greatest writer in all history and his skill in the poetry of words. This is why cinema is my personal favourite medium of art. Plus it has a big battle in it.
I love this movie. It is now my favourite adaptation of Shakespeare to screen. Do I think it’s perfect? Not absolutely. The only gripe I have is the removal of some of my favourite lines along with the necessary editing I have just raved about. I’m actually surprised that some of these parts were removed. A number of them are seminal lines of the written word.
If you’re looking for an absolute Shakespeare experience and have it on-screen rather than on stage or on paper, I’d recommend the 1978 RSC movie with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench as the Macbeths. This is what I’d say is pure Shakespearean cinema. I honestly think that if Shakespeare had written Macbeth for the screen he would do so here. Some of the filmmaking decisions are so good that I shuddered as I did upon hearing “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” for the first time.
Some people studied Shakespeare at school and may have had bad experiences with his writing. Perhaps you believe he is too poncy, too incomprehensible, and too old. It is absolutely your prerogative to think that. Just because he is known as history’s greatest writer, doesn’t mean you have to believe it. I would however suggest that you watch this film. If this doesn’t convince you that the Bard is cool, nothing will.
Recommended Scenario: If you love Shakespeare or hate him, this Scottish Play is right for you.
If what I have written tells you that you would like this film, you can book tickets to see it at your local Cineworld here.