How you feel about this latest adaptation of “the Scottish play” will depend, I think, on how attached you are to the original text; a lot of it has been cut in favour of a more visual style where much is communicated by expression, cinematography and windswept, haunting setting instead.
For me, it works brilliantly. The cast, led by an absolutely electrifying Michael Fassbender, is terrific, and every look or gesture says more than all the soliloquys in the world ever could. There will be plenty of people who think it’s sacrilege to excise even a word of Shakespeare’s writing, and fair enough, but I’m not one of them. In this case, I think the focus on showing rather than telling means the story moves faster and much more accessibly, albeit it also means Macbeth’s sudden switch from loyal hero to power-crazed mass murderer is both abrupt and more difficult to accept than in the play, even if the script does make a praiseworthy attempt to try to explain it with allusions to PTSD and the loss of both his children.
An additional consequence of all this streamlining, however, means that Lady Macbeth is somewhat sidelined. Marion Cotillard is still superb, but her role in driving Macbeth down the path of doom seems much less significant than in previous adaptations I’ve seen and views may well vary on whether that’s a good or a bad thing.
The cinematography, however, is an amazing thing. Gorgeous red skies; eerie grey hillsides; grimy, bloody, soldiers fighting exhaustedly but resignedly – exquisitely shot and directed, the bold, breathtaking look of the film is a character in itself, with atmosphere seeping through every shot. Relentlessly bleak and depressing, Macbeth has never been one of my favourite plays, and this version won’t be everyone’s favourite, but I thought it was excellent.