Modernising Shakespeare is sometimes left to style over substance. Relocation is a common device: throw Jacobean lovers into a high school, or a hunched villain into SS gear, and you have a ready-made talking point. Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth is awash with blood, mist, and thoroughly modern scenes of carnage, but it succeeds mostly because of its adherence to the tenets of compelling filmmaking. The story is stripped to its sharpest elements, simply told: the director is unafraid to paint a sense of space and silence, recasting the Scottish tyrant as a shattered victim of PTSD in wartime.
Michael Fassbender’s approach of grizzled detachment in the titular role renders events more senseless than a warmer interpretation may have suggested. Similarly, Lady Macbeth, played by Marion Cottilard, retreats into the memory of their dead child: this infant claws its way out of subtext to haunt the entire picture. Kurzel has concocted a psychotic vision of Shakespeare’s most thrilling tragedy, directing with the grand, “heat-oppressed brain” of a horror auteur. At times the film can seem deaf to verbal lyricism, but its images are stark, visceral and lit by hellish grandeur.
Justin Kurzel, Macbeth, StudioCanal, is now available on DVD.
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1. Still from Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, StudioCanal.