A dead child, a funeral pyre and two grieving parents: the opening shots of Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth make its bleak, disturbing tone clear. Within moments, this latest version of Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish play’ announces itself as pure, atmospheric cinema that deserves to be seen in theatres.
Macbeth Michael Fassbender

It’s in this agonised state of mourning that Kurzel’s Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) heads into battle. He’s victorious and hailed a hero, but his pained reaction to the death of countless soldiers exposes his paternal instincts. In the context of this intense grief, Macbeth is understandably open to corruption by the three weird sisters who manipulate him with a self-fulfilling prophecy: Macbeth will one day be king.

From this moment, Marion Cotillard’s intense, detached Lady Macbeth similarly fills her maternal void with ambitious zeal. There’s a compelling vulnerability to the performances making the mental unravelling of both Macbeth and his wife an inevitable consequence of their violent grab for the throne.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that Kurzel approaches Shakespeare’s characters from this perspective. His dark cinematic debut, Snowtown, explored the paternal vacuum that serial killer John Bunting exploited in his recruitment of young accomplice Jamie Vlassakis during Australia’s ‘body in the barrel murders’. The film earned Kurzel the critic’s Special Mention at Cannes, 2011, and his take on Macbeth is similarly striking.

Kurzel’s shot composition, formidable silhouettes, poetic use of slow motion and frequent cutting combine to make Macbeth a visual masterwork. Mist and smoke drift across the barren landscape until the cold Scottish air almost seeps into the auditorium. The film’s myriad details from the desolate vistas to the tense celtic score combine to form a vivid impression of a brutal, Medieval Scotland. Like the fierce red skies which loom over it, Kurzel’s Macbeth is bathed in ambition, jealousy, bloody violence and deep psychological wounds that refuse to heal.


VERDICT: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 5/5


Certificate: 15
Running time: 113 minutes
Images: © 2015 – StudioCanal
UK release date: 2 October 2015

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