Why isn’t there more cinematic Macbeth? Actors seem to be falling over themselves to do Hamlet – sorry, dudes, but Branagh did it and thereby was it done – and you can paper the walls with all the unnecessary versions of Romeo and Juliet – again, sorry, but Luhrmann said all there was to say and then some.
But the Scottish Play gets neglected. The last version I can remember was Geoffrey Wright’s violent Aussie gangland homage, with Sam Worthington in the title role. I really liked it, but it wasn’t a serious movie, right? (Basically it was Underbelly: Macbeth, for those who watch Australian TV. Subtitled ‘Mr. Worthington has great hair’.)
Maybe it’s because Macbeth himself is such an unpleasant character, who makes such bad decisions, and he’s difficult to make sympathetic. He’s damaged, but he’s single-mindedly bloodthirsty, too. And I guess you’d need to have a particular physicality to carry him off.
Enter this movie – with its depiction of Macbeth as a war-hardened general – and Mr. Fassbender, who achieves all those things with aplomb and presence. His is an understated performance, full of suppressed rage and confusion. The few times he lets any other emotion fly, it’s a genuine shock and hits the harder for it.
Ms. Cotillard is a terrific real-world Lady Macbeth, not a caricature or a simple femme fatale. And Sean Harris – who’s a fine actor, even if he’ll always be Micheletto to me – typically chews your nerves and makes you stare as Macduff.
The only slightly false note for me was the strange treatment of the banquet scene with Banquo’s ghost. It was oddly surreal and clashed with the rest of the movie, somehow. But only a minor bump. The ultimate fire-and-brimstone duel – the culmination of Macbeth’s descent into hell – is spectacular and like nothing I’ve seen before.
A good movie. Oh, and it has Bamburgh Castle in it, which is near where I used to live in the UK! The mid-to-north of the British Isles has a special quality of light and this film captured it beautifully.