Film Review and Comparison: Macbeth

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. 

Shakespeare is a sensitive topic in my house. My husband isn’t the most intrigued by his work, but I find it strangely fascinating. Macbeth is something I never read as a student, but now after reading the work and seeing the new film, I cannot understand how I managed to avoid it.

The new film by director Justin Kurzel (The Snowtown Murders) flips around the dialogue and makes a grittier, darker, almost rock-opera feeling war film. We open with the funeral of Macbeth’s son surrounded by the Scottish Highlands. The funeral is dark and full of unspoken tension and sadness.

For a play that is all talking and words, less was always opted for in this film adaptation, which added so much more character and freedom to the performances. The witches come in and act more as a presence rather than a chorus, and the battles rarely seen on stage are blown up and exaggerated in full-blown Braveheart meets 300 fashion.

Much of the story is altered from the play, but as I re-read the work and remembered the images of the film, it was all for the better. The play is beholden to the single stage not giving the viewers the benefit of rich locations and encompassing camera movements.

“Show, don’t tell” is masterfully done here.

Michael Fassbender (X-Men: Days of Future Past) was a force in this film. The Telegraph stated he was “born for this” role, and I could not agree more. He completely embodied his character and was flawless with the tongue-twister dialogue. Marion Cotillard (Inception) was a brilliant counter-part to Fassbender as the scheming wife who pushes Macbeth while trying to hide her own grief.

When Macbeth returns home from battle with a victory for his king, he believes he deserves to be next in line for the crown. But when King Duncan’s son, Malcolm, is said to be the heir, Macbeth plans to kill Duncan and take the crown for himself. With the help from Lady Macbeth, he pulls off the murder and puts the blame on Malcolm, who has fled during the night. The crown is put on Macbeth’s head creating a new and tyrannical leadership in Scotland.

Now paranoid he will be murdered, Macbeth goes mad and starts killing off those who would be next in line to his heir-less throne. Seeing their ghosts only pushes him further down into madness, so he calls on the rarely seen witches for assurances. They tell him no man born of woman will kill him. But often with Shakespeare, while assurances sound ironclad, they are not. There is always a loophole that is carelessly discarded.

Macduff, a former ally and friend, has aligned himself with Malcolm and brought a ten thousand soldier army from England to face-off with Macbeth, not only for the throne but for revenge on killing his family. In what must have been an expensive day with a fog machine, the battle begins and brings back the striking imagery the film started with in the Scottish Highlands. The witches make their last, silent appearance while Macbeth and Macduff rage on.

* * * * *

I will admit that the first twenty minutes of the film were slow. I felt my eyes drooping as I tried desperately to understand the Shakespearean dialogue. But as soon as the story began with the death of the king, my eyes shot open and I was completely intrigued by the storytelling. I caught the rhythm of the words and could follow the story much easier. It’s amazing what cutting out several lines of dialogue can do for clarity.

With the freedom of the Scottish terrain, the astounding imagery left me breathless. We have just come back from a weekend trip up to Scotland, and while we did not make it to the Isle of Skye personally, I feel like I have seen the green and lush beauty thanks to cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (True Detective).

One of the biggest components of the film was the music. The score was just as lush as the landscape with whispers of strings and then suddenly, an onslaught of bass and cello reverberations echoing the intensity of the battles fought. When I mentioned the words, “rock-opera” earlier, I meant it when it came to the strong and deep notes played through the battles. The battle movements slowed down and sped up while the orchestra raged creating a free flowing, almost mosh-pit feel to the images. I felt involved and enamored by it.

* * * * *

My husband has banned me from taking him to any more Shakespeare plays or films. What he had hoped to get out of this adaptation was not the famous Scottish play but rather a biopic on the actual King Macbeth. So, if you’re looking for the true story of the Red King, this film is not for you.

Mac Bethad mac Findláich was born in 1005 as the son of an earl. When he was 35, he did kill King Duncan in battle and took the throne from his nephew, Malcolm. King Macbeth reigned for fourteen years and pushed the spread of Christianity even traveling to Rome. But in 1057, Macbeth was defeated by Malcolm in battle giving the crown back to the previous blood line.

Never is King Macbeth documented as the tyrant or blood-thirsty ruler that Shakespeare conveyed. In the grand scheme of things going on in history at the time, King Macbeth seems rather tame. So maybe Shakespeare wanted to stir up some of the long-lasting tension between the English and the Scottish with his work.

 * * * * *

This film was astoundingly beautiful and skillfully acted. As someone who has a hard time reading and understanding Shakespeare on its own, I found the story completely captivating and rife with political and murderous tension. I wholly recommend this updated, condensed, and engrossing adaptation of Macbeth, the Scottish play.

(For my U.S. readers, the movie hits theaters December 4th. Mark it in your calendar as a must-see.)


4 out of 5 stars



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