Friday, 9 October 2015

All Hail Macbeth

by Floss Willcocks

Feeling guilty from a recent lack of literary diversity, I decided to go and see the new film adaptation of Macbeth released to the cinemas last Friday. Prior to the film I ran through my sparse knowledge of the murderous play in preparation, and I remembered  just how complex each character's diverse range of emotions must be for the actors as the tragedy unfolds. I hoped very much that the famous faces of Michael Fassbender (Macbeth), Marion Cotillard (Lady Macbeth) and David Thewllis (King Duncan) would fill the huge boots of those who have slayed the roles on stage. (Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood's performance in Chichester and London almost 8 years ago is certainly a hard act to follow).

It is safe to say that I was not in the slightest bit disappointed. The evil and bitter concepts of the tragic tale was strengthened by the tempestuous scenery of the Scottish Highlands and lead ardently by a mud-smeared, blood-soaked Fassbender. The first battle scene throws the viewers into the middle of angry warfare, but the incredible slow motion footage and murky lighting left me in awe of the beautiful photography instead of the savage bloodshed.

...not that I'm saying the film isn't sufficiently full of gore! The brutal end to David Thewllis (Duncan) is enough to make any horror-fan squint in anguish, and this, following a thoughtful portrayal of the "Is this a dagger..." soliloquy allows the build up of emotion to result in a truly horrific outburst of violence. I wouldn't say that I'm a huge fan of the massacre genre, but I think that this Shakespeare play is so notoriously full of blood-thirst and evil that if there was any less unnecessary slaughter, the vital tragic concept of Macbeth's insanity and ambition would be lost.

Although the actors showed very strong talent (especially the young Fleance - a child-actor without lines but extremely heart-rending expression), I praise particularly the work of the almost unknown director Justin Kurzel. While keeping to many traditional Macbeth themes - the Scottish Highland scenery and medieval time setting - he adds many of his own interpretations of the script, as Shakespeare never included stage directions. My favourite was his portrayal of the witches' prophecy of "Birnam woods coming to Dunsinane". Diverting from the usual scene of Macduff leading Malcolm's army to the castle hidden behind branches, the famous Birnam Wood is burnt to the ground by the English soldiers, and it is the ash of the trees blown by the wind that fulfils the prophecy and sends Macbeth into panic. This lays the scene for a perfect last battle ignited in bright flames and ash, contrasting dramatically with previously dark scenes.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this film, enough to inspire me to turn my thoughts into a review, but from the view of a casual fan of Shakespeare rather than a deeply analytical thinker. True - in a way it made me miss the English Literature lessons which I dropped at the end of year 11 for more logic-based subjects, but at the same time I was glad to sit back and simply appreciate the abridged language and prose of the film, without thinking about how I would write an essay about it!
Strongly recommended!

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