By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes…
When showing stage performances of Shakespeare at the cinema became a ‘thing’, one of the first ones I went to see was Kenneth Branagh playing Macbeth – and it was *amazing*. So this movie adaptation had a lot to live up to!
Of course, being a film allows for a lot of additional staging, and it’s used extremely well here: from the wordless opening scenes of the Macbeth couple burying a child – adding such an extra element to the motivations! – to a burning Birnam Wood arriving at Dunsinane as floating ash.
If that last comment doesn’t mean much to you, then it does flag one thing about this movie: I do think prior knowledge of the play will help a great deal, especially towards the end, and in particular because the original Shakespearean text is preserved.
However, even if you don’t know much about ‘The Scottish Play’, there’s still a lot to take from this. The performances are excellent: Michael Fassbender is perfect as the lead, pushed to treachery and murder by prophecy and an overbearing wife, then falling to madness. Marion Cotillard retains her French accent, subtly, adding the outsider element to the role. I do have to say, I’ve never felt so much for Lady Macbeth – the staging, the visuals, really helped me understand the character far more than before.
It’s an unfair comparison, film to stage, but absolutely the added visuals help, not least the amazing scenery of Skye – mists and mud and heather. The banquet scene, where Macbeth sees the ghost of one of his victims, is so huge compared to what can be shown on stage, it’s a whole other layer.
Likewise, the movie format allows for a far greater range in volume from the actors – on stage, the quiet murmuring would be inaudible, and yet it suits the delivery so well. And I should mention the accents – I was quite pleased by the Scottish turns by most of the cast, Fassbender in particular only slipping once that I caught.
Students studying the play have been given a huge gift here, I think: a very watchable and (largely) accessible version of the play, with minimal differences to confuse. Fans of the Bard, or of period drama, or just good stories, will be almost as pleased.
Released: 2nd October 2015
Running time: 113 minutes
My rating: 8.5/10