Film review: Macbeth

This is a very dour vision; a bleak-as-a-point-of-principle take on Shakespeare’s tragedy, says Michael Joyce.

Every Shakespeare production needs a distinctive take, and this latest screen adaptation of The Scottish Play has gone with being very Scottish. This is a very dour vision; a bleak-as-a-point-of-principle take on Shakespeare’s tragedy. Everybody has a crack at the accent, except Cotillard as Lady Macbeth – presumably she is his sassenach trophy bride. Big of cast but small of budget, the film’s visual scheme is like slow motion strobe lighting – the viewer is encased in tight, murkily lit interiors and just as your eyes are adapting to the darkness, blammo: a vast daylight exterior assaults your eyeballs. The exterior shots are beautiful but shrouded in mist.

Macbeth isn’t the most bloodthirsty of Shakespeare’s plays, but on the big screen it is the one that attracts the nutters. In the early ‘70s, post-Manson, Polanski made a blood-splattered version. Australian Kurzel’s only previous feature is Snowtown. According to those that have got all the way through it, it’s an impressive but gruelling and repellent experience, and his Shakespeare is similarly unrelenting. It’s not that it’s excessively violent, it’s just intoxicated with its own grimness. It’s like a Game of Thrones episode with all the narrative hooks and fun taken out. During the finale, there is so much red stuff caked onto his face, Harris’s MacDuff resembles the loser in a custard pie fight of blood. In many ways impressive; the final confrontation is inspired by the wheat field fire scene in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven and is just as beautiful. It is though almost comically morose: less Shakespeare in the Park, more Shakespeare in a nuclear winter.

Rating: 3/5 stars