Shakespeare 400 - Macbeth

Part of Shakespeare 400 On Screen, presented in association with the University of Ottawa

Macbeth is a terrifying play that often seems to overflow the parameters of its performance. The horror of Macbeth is a horror that threatens to leap off the stage or screen, and Justin Kurzel’s version seems, at first, to define itself as a Macbeth notable for its self-restraint.Poster art for Macbeth

This film favours inwardness over display, murmurs over shouts, and psychological explanations over paranormal ones, downplaying the witches but giving the title character (the marvellously understated Michael Fassbender) both a dead son and post-traumatic stress disorder to explain how a loyal soldier becomes a ruthless mass murderer.

There is no eye of newt or toe of frog here, but plenty of spurting blood and crunching bones to show the horrors of war – and also the allure of death, the camera lingering on ballet-like slow-motion panoramas of destruction or on the blue-white face of the son (the film’s invention) whose funeral seems to incite the Macbeths towards their killing spree.

Despite its richly detailed, meticulously crafted setting in medieval Scotland, this Macbeth suggests, in the subtle performances of Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, a threat that is not safely relegated to a period that believed in witches. Fassbender barely registers the witches’ prophecies, already fully immersed in the horrors that explain, with no recourse to the supernatural, why a couple might lose their way on a path that leads to the destruction of everything that they have already lost.

– Kathryn Prince, University of Ottawa

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