(MA15+) Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard

Why is it that Shakespeare continues to crop up regularly at cinemas? Despite his language of yesteryear and by-gone cultures, the timelessness of Shakespeare’s work continues to show how little mankind has changed over the years.

In your English class at school, do you remember the infamous line, ‘Out, damned spot’? Lady Macbeth’s struggle with guilt and regret is summed up in that one line, just as it also epitomises the narrative of Shakespeare’s drama. Macbeth is a classic storyline that involves revenge, murder, mental illness and betrayal. For those who somehow have missed one of The Bard’s most popular plays, here is a basic summary. Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is a duke of Scotland and an accomplished leader of men on the battlefield. After a key victory for his king and country, he receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. During the celebration of his victory, he remains consumed by this vision and eventually conspires with his wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), to make this vision a reality. Their scheming leads to a series of events that end with the assassination of the king and Macbeth’s eventual ascension to the throne. Throughout the transition to kingship, Macbeth and his wife suffer through the mental anguish of evil choices that brought them to power. But what is done in secret, eventually, will be exposed.

Michael Fassbender plays one of the most bloody and visceral of Shakespeare’s theatrical creations. He is exceptionally tantalising in the role and delivers a mesmerising portrayal of the tragic king. He effectively leads this film with the support of an incredible cast that delivers on the expectation of this timeless tale. Emerging Australia director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) provides a modern spin on this classic tale of murder and deception. Even though slow-motion sequences do become tiresome, overall, he utilises the Scottish landscape as another character to capture the look and feel of horror that comes from this story of betrayal. The material and the talent provide the needed lift for this murky journey into the depths of human emotion. For those who are not familiar with this time-honoured story, be aware that Macbeth is exceptionally violent and contains disturbing themes.

The biggest challenge for this film will be breaking out of the English department at the local university and into the hearts of the general populace. It might seem sacrilegious to challenge the usage of Shakespeare’s original dialogue, but know that the critique is not of the content of the script. The challenge is found in modern ears. People have difficulty understanding this bygone era’s application of the English language. The Shakespearean wording is for the classically trained in theatrical productions, so can make for a difficult cinematic experience for the rest of us.

Watching this drama stirred up the feeling of ‘enjoy it, because it is good for you’. Whenever something has such a ‘it is good for you’ vibe, it tends to be difficult to swallow. Again, this version of Macbeth is beautifully adapted for the silver screen. It’s entertaining and faithful to the source material. But it might lack enough of a modern spin to connect with modern audiences.


Leaving the cinema…

To appreciate the classic tale, it is worth knowing the story prior to entering the theatre. For the Shakespeare purists, Kurzel’s adpatation will be satisfying. For general audiences, though, it will be harder to understand.


What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

  1. What does the Bible say about guilt? (Psalm 103:11-12, 1 John 1:9)
  2. Can we ever find justice? (Proverbs 21:15, Romans 12:19)
  3. What does the Bible say about aspiring to leadership? (Jeremiah 29:11, John 16:33)

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger


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