Two films this year have created a visual feast so well-choreographed, that you could watch with the sound muted and still follow every story beat and character development. The first was Mad Max: Fury Road, and the second, incredibly, is Macbeth.
It’s a brave set of people that take the immortal words of Shakespeare and not only shorten the text considerably for snappy pacing, but also make the words secondary to the telling of the story through images. Yet that’s what director Justin Kurzel and his crew have done, and it works!
In Kurzel’s vision of Scotland the landscape is either wrapped in heavy fog and hanging murk or bathed in orange flame. Again like Mad Max, these extreme opposing colours create otherworldly moods and convey the ever escalating sense of madness going on all around. It’s reminiscent of the Italian Giallo masters who would juxtapose opposing bold colours to create unnerving moods and its effect is wondrous.
Toiling inside this ethereal world is Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth, whose unfolding insanity is etched into his continually crumpling façade, with the memory of his dead child and the men he has unjustly killed dancing around his brain, and sometimes even appearing before him. When he speaks it’s as if he doesn’t want to be heard. He’s sucking the words back into himself. He’s afraid to say them. Yet his desire to have the witches’ prophecy fulfilled propels him on with the support of his wife (also succumbing to the ‘blood on her hands’).
I genuinely struggled to remember any of the speeches upon leaving the cinema. Not that I don’t know them well enough from reading the play over the years, but because the film’s images were emblazoned across my brain. There’s real horror in the face of Fassbender’s Macbeth and in the glorious macabre of the burning battlefields. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw must surely get the credit for these iconic images, and I am excited to see more of his work in the future (he’s been announced as DoP on Kurzel’s adaptation of Assassin’s Creed – also starring Fassbender – which is great news).
What should be acknowledged as most crucial regarding this telling of Macbeth is how accessible it makes the story. This is the kind of film schools can utilise to fire up the passions of their literature students and get them grabbing for a copy of the Bard’s works. It is visceral and unflinching, yet a stunning sight to behold.