When Australian director Justin Kurzel announced a 2015 release of his adaptation of Macbeth, with a screenplay written by Jacob Koskoff, Todd Louiso, and Michael Lesslie, he immediately garnered plenty of interest. Adapting Shakespeare always has its risks; you are working with a source text that is centuries old and revered by millions of people across the world, and managing the change to a screenplay runs the risks of taking away the magic the original plays possess. With a work like The Tragedy of Macbeth in particular, the play’s doom and gloom has been adapted multiple times, but rarely has Shakespeare’s work been adequately translated.
Step in Kurzel, whose adaptation is a total triumph.
With sweeping landscapes that demand attention, Kurzel has remained faithful to the play’s origins as a play. At times, it seems as though the actors are being led by a master puppeteer – in particular, the battle scenes as Macbeth engages in a bloody war look as though they are an exercise in shadow puppetry – and what could have appeared foolish and childish is instead transformed into something exquisite.
As the title character, Michael Fassbender carries off Macbeth’s descent into madness remarkably. All at once, the viewer is both intrigued and repulsed by the character, whom Fassbender imbues with a fascinating energy. His on-screen wife, Lady Macbeth portrayed by the exquisite Marion Cotillard, shares the same emotion. Together, their chemistry is magnetic. Cotillard is dark and enthralling, an energy Fassbender feeds off throughout the film, and together they create what seems to be the perfect representation of Shakespeare’s murder couple.
Overall, Kurzel has created a truly masterful adaptation. The panoramic shots of Scotland’s landscapes are at once bleak and overwhelming, every inch of them laced with blood and fire in some manner, two features Kurzel has used almost to excess. But, when teamed with Fassbender’s brooding main character and Cotillard’s intensity, everything seems to balance out, resulting in a film that is certainly more than a satisfactory adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s greats. If I can offer one bit of advice to you, it is to take the time and go and see it in the cinema – this is not a movie to be watched on the small screen.