Macbeth (2015) Review

This is the definitive Macbeth. Hail  Macbeth.

“Life’s but a walking shadow. Honour, love, friends, but in their stead, curses”. “

Macbeth, Macbeth (2015)

Every adaptation of Macbeth is different;
1948 – Orson Welles made a campy, highly expressionist, americanised version of The Scottish Play.
1957 – Akira Kurosawa adapted the western tragedy into a highly stylised samurai film called Throne of Blood. He worked around Shakespeare’s over-wrought dialogue and infused it with elements of japanese noh theatre. The result is haunting and epic.
1971 Roman Polanski created what was more or less a horror film with a highland cultish feel to it.

BeFunky Collage

Welles’, Kurosawa’s and Polanski’s respective adaptations

And in 2015, Justin Kurzel created a gritty, noir-ish, almost viking-esque or tribal War film with an A-List cast, led by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, both on Oscar winning form as the eponymous tyrant and his wife. They both do so with a charisma and gravitas we rarely expect of Shakespeare adaptations; this is not a flimsy, costume drama full of light-hearted bants.


It is very much the story of a warrior (Macbeth) whose life within the film is given distinction, both positive and negative, by the two astounding major battle scenes that bookend the film. To even describe them as “astounding” is an understatement.
In between those battle scenes, Fassbender and Cotillard share a great deal of screen time scheming and slowly descending into madness.

They’re both so believably power-hungry yet so pitifully ill-equipped to bear the weight of regicide and their ongoing treachery, and that’s the basis for the story; that Mr and Mrs Macbeth sought power for it’s own sake, and would succumb to the effects of guilt and paranoia. This newest film adds another 2 elements to their growing madness: shellshock and infant death.

Macbeth is scarred (in every way) from the wars he’s had to fight in and becomes prone to breaks from reality. In this adaptation, we get to the core of Macbeth’s damage, he has PTSD and his son/daughter has died, which is something only vaguely alluded to in past adaptations. These changes give Mr Macbeth more autonomy and as a result they actually relegate Lady Macbeth from overarching scheming femme fatale to her husband’s damaged partner in crime. 

Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth, who is first seen at the burial of their infant, grows ever more separate from her husband as she tries desperately to get closer to the man she knows she lost to war a long time ago.


Lady Macbeth as played by Marion Cotillard

I must confess at this point that I’m not a fan of Shakespeare. It’s not that I don’t like his stuff, it’s that I don’t care for his work, probably because we were all, at some point, forced in our secondary education to dissect Billy Shakes’s work until it was just words on a page instead of a story in our heads.

However, I do care about anything that reminds me of Game of Thrones, which Macbeth (2015) does; that is what sold it to me, actually.
I am very sure that George RR Martin took great inspiration from Macbeth when penning his fantasy fiction epic. The story of a once noble knight from an illustrious family, who becomes king and slowly goes mad from paranoia and a lust for power is one we hear echoes of in the character of Aerys II “The Mad King”. Add a dash of king killing and prophecy-inspired madness and you have one Cersei Lannister.
Macbeth’s skeptical attitude towards the supernatural & prophecies and its bone-crunching, uncompromisingly bloody battle sequences are the key similarities it shares with Thrones and they serve to completely immerse you in the cinematic experience.


Brienne Vs The Hound – Season 4. Macbeth is as brutal.

And it is just that, “cinematic”. It takes full advantage of the advantages available from the medium and puts them to great use, from the sweeping shots of Middle Ages Scottish scenery, to the intimate close ups on its central performers. These flourishes would be impossible on stage.
It’s Shakespeare for the Game of Thrones, post-Lord of the Rings generation.

The monologues and soliloquies are delivered with gusto and vigour, even if, at times, it seems like like characters are belting out their innermost thoughts to a room full of people for no reason other than “Shakespeare wrote it that way“. Macbeth is frequently not a subtle film but it plays every element with the utmost seriousness.

It is a very serious film. For want of a better phrase, it is very humourless, I don’t think any character so much as cracks a smile for the (very lean) sub-2 hour run time, the only dim exception to this is Fassbender’s frenzied grimace as he rasps of how “full of scorpions” his mind is. I don’t mean this as a detraction, it works to the film’s credit, but you can tell that stoicism of Scotland and the unforgiving landscapes of Australia have influenced Justin Kurzel’s approach.


The only “smile” in the film


Almost without competition, Macbeth is the best looking film I have ever seen in my life.

Seen is the important word here because it isn’t “the best film”, but, visually, it’s my favourite to look at. In the past 12 months, I have only thrice been awestruck by a film; Nolan’s Interstellar, Miller’s Mad Max Fury Road and Kurzel’s Macbeth.


No still nor animated gif could ever express the awe Fury Road inspires


Interstellar made you feel so small, like a single astronaut, floating through the universe

Words like “grand” and “operatic” spring to mind with unquestionable accuracy, it all looks so real, like it is ACTUALLY happening as you’re watching it. This is what “epic” looks like.
Adam Arkapaw, the award winning cinematographer of True Detective Season 1, returns for his second collaboration with fellow Australian, and director of this masterpiece, Justin Kurzel. The two of them, both relative newcomers to the world of big budget filmmaking, create some of the most visually striking images committed to film this year. If The Revenant doesn’t win best cinematography at the 2016 Oscars, then I am confident Macbeth will.


The only real downside is how inaccessible and foreign the language is. The script is lifted verbatim from the actual play, so the whole thing IS in 17th Century English. I feel I understood the majority of it, but the archaic English rather takes you out of the moment because, after every line, you have to do a quick translation in your head of what was just said instead of focusing on the bigger, better, now. That said, I encourage you to see your way through it, listening to the story in it’s mother tongue can be enriching if you’re willing to put the time into understanding.

Final note: Kurzel, Fassbender, Cotillard and Arkapaw will be reuniting for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed adaptation.

8 out of 10

Genre: War/Psychological Thriller/Epic

Age Rating: 15 (R in the US)

Runtime: 113 Mins

Film Distributor: The Weinstein Company

So what do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

– Mat S




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