Dir Justin Kurzel
For a generation weaned on Game of Thrones, Justin Kurzel’s new version of Macbeth comes along at just the right time. Where that show’s author, George R R Martin seemingly gets more than his fair share of plot twists from the likes of Shakespeare, this version of the Scottish play takes a lean, bleak approach that matches the icy decline of its two main characters.
In this tale of the fate of those who conspire to murder a king in 11th century Scotland, Michael Fassbender takes the lead role as Macbeth. Caked in mud and the remains of battle, Fassbender’s performance is a coiled spring of tension where the most subtle of facial tics means so much. As Lady Macbeth, Marion Cotillard matches the intensity of her co-star’s turn. Her “Out, damn spot” monologue is delivered in frozen stillness with the rolling of a few tears making impact like a slow tumbling avalanche of despair.
Australian Kurzel is known for his previous film, the debut Snowtown. The depiction of the horrific events leading up to the discovery of bodies in an abandoned South Australian bank vault certainly made an impact. That film traced the way in which the charismatic murderers drew others into their confidence. The director applied an undisguised sense of creeping dread. Kurzel travels the same trajectory here, ably supported by the leads, with Paddy Considine as Banquo, Sean Harris as MacDuff and David Thewliss as King Duncan.
Shakespeare’s text is winnowed by three writers to leave a barebones version in the original form of language. The delivery of these lines is minimalistic, almost experimental but it does serve to let the words have the impact they are due without showy emoting.
Alongside the script is a relentlessly bleak production design based on meticulous historical research which leaves much of the action taking place on vast grey snowy Scottish plains. The actors are often dwarfed by their surroundings, only to have subsequent shots in close-up which contrast the outer and inner landscape of the story. The staging of crucial battle scenes is fierce and grimy too. And yet Kurzel manages to draw a distinct tone of beauty from all of this harshness. Every scene is composed exquisitely. Every frame of grey is a work of art right to the bitter end.
Of course this story has been filmed before. Orson Welles (1948), Akira Kurosawa (Throne Of Blood in 1957) and Roman Polanski (1971) have had their go. In 2015, Justin Kurzel has staked his claim to be mentioned alongside these famed directors with this muscular, propulsive version.