Macbeth the concept.
In telling the story of Scottish Generals and Kings Shakespeare provides the genius construct of the weakness of all mankind.
Corrupted by evil at once the pyramidic value set in dominions across the world are cast forever into repeated downward failure to imagine the world without violence.
The repetition is beset long before the play is written or it’s many formulated interpretations, some set on distant continents, in modern as well as medieval times.
Without fail it is easily the most accessible work created by Shakespeare and here is a version put to film as another contender to open our wounds.
It is a mesmeric version, full of visually stunning broads-cape earthbound gravitas. It is full of magical otherness with the Witches tale, – and Thomas Middleton it is often said, wrote for theatrical guile the well known witches scene, Act 4, Scene 1 having Macbeth, now empowered with the formation of rule over all of Scotland, an encounter with the three witches who in the very first scene of the play had foretold his future.
They stir the cauldron – a Scots Broth of root of Hemlock, Gall of Goat, Finger of birth-strangled babe amongst other delicacies. “Though Palaces and pyramids do slope, Their heads to their foundations, though the treasure Of natures germen tumble altogether Even till destruction sicken : answer me To what I ask you”
This asks Macbeth as the apparition of the witches, the satan like opposite ‘God’ he turns in his head, provide the prophesies wildly but close to the fate he will endure.
First apparition, “Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth; beware Macduff” An excellent and explosive Sean Harris.
The potency of the prophecy equivalent to Caesar’s deliverance.
This film too has at the beginning another thing in mind.
Pay attention from the very beginning in other words!
It begins with a funeral scene which attests to the blood Macbeth and Lady Macbeth conceive as their future.
Justin Kurzell obviously wants us to not only consider the treacherous nature of alliances but the fruits of the unions chosen.
We see the witches proclaim “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”, in thick garrulous Scottish dialect which immediately requires your utmost attention.
It is language made to conceive ideas, truths, dilemmas, reversals and all kinds of twists and turns. It is without compromise we are fastened into the iambic pentameter of the astonishing insightfully transposed emotions brought through linear 8/10 vowels and dialogue. Instinctively Shakespeare has wrought and stretched occasional verses and speeches into everlasting contemporaneous floods of thought washing like Macbeths hands under the waterfall of natures presence.
It is from a battlefield where we encounter the savagery of the generals Macbeth and Banquo played by Paddy Considine slaying the Norwegian enemy and his ally Thane of Cawdor. They return to the Scottish King Duncan the head of the slain for picking on the Castle battlement.
From that moment forth the darkness descends even more black and the figure of Duncan, an amenable righteous King, friend and fair governor, though how he achieved his own status is itself overlooked, – is played brilliantly by David Thewlis. Amiable affable David Thewlis is tall and ideal as this seemingly benign King.
The casting on all fronts is astute and faultless. Michael Fassbinder without one flaw is Macbeth the troubled hero. Lady Macbeth likewise. Marion Cottilaird is stunning portraying the malice as the evil cohabitant of the joint liaison both have summoned to seek for their contentment, symbols of their combined wisdom.
It is faultless as soon as the conspiracies and parameters are set. They are set in the context of King Duncan’s choice of a successor which shocks Macbeth and is seen by Banquo as a fate with which there can be no real contest. Banquo has his son Theance in mind it seems and as his sons protector shows only practical contempt of Duncan’s actions.
Not so Lady Macbeth.
The Castle interior is not a lavish set on a fairly low budget film but there is little to denounce as the story unfolds in speedy courses of original dialogue and scene setting speeches. The memorality and cadences are very clearly interpreted and the swift edit cutting, present from the beginning where we see sufficient landscape and facial expressions as to be wholly convinced of this period interpretation. The tonal colourscape of the film is as the highlands of Scotland have appeared it seems for millennia.
For modern Shakespearian audiences it is in film entirely manageable (will a directors cut fill in all the absent dialogue?! Hardly!) to absent, omit certain scenes, for example Lady Macduff and Ross and their metaphor laden discourse.
We are instead delivered immediately to the cut and thrust of the pulsating pace of the outcomes from the major characters.
Breathtaking and troubling nature at once mocking and providing lush life and long genus loci.
That’s Scotland for you and Macbeth is at home at best it seems in Inverness. From England will come to the other Lowland Castle an army set by Malcolm and Macduff.
The loss of self control and judgement is fast enveloping as indeed is the protagonist of evil, Lady Macbeth, herself while alone subjected to self doubt and conspiracies of internalised composition. This is in itself a power play of acting and actorial genius first imagined by William Shakespeare himself a doubter of the sovereignty in his midst.
Primarily to be successful it was necessary for him to quell his own judgement and only to slightly if that infer the cosmos of his beliefs. After all The Tempest being his final play, act spoke of the alienation, not an underrated descriptor, of his own mostly hidden or overlooked Catholicism. I believe he had realised the difficulty of criticising the Monarchy as the reformation began to take root.
This play set when a period of calm in religious fervency was destabilized by these acts of ‘play’ evoked Kings pyramidic violence laden betrayal of the ‘truth’ seen in a possible ‘outlier’ of religious discovery, instead is encroachable and lost in this human failure seen in the dramatic form with an intensity never encountered before. (Or since you might argue)
Justin Kurzell has excelled in delivering this drama so effectively and accessibly to the big screen. This is were it is meant to be seen – it so happens TVs are becoming so big as to encroach on Cinemas singular and specific medium! So see it in a large space on a large screen and be dragged into it without distraction.
You will see – for no other reason than visual stimulus – play on the majesty of spaces – the serenity of the truly unique environment of Ely Catherdral is invested and charged to acquaint us with ‘awe’. The light streams into a space which happens to be so close to London it’s almost Home Counties and therefore distinctly not Scottish or Glamis as to provoke the directors determination to satiate our thirst for context and meaning.
Conclusion ####+ 4+
Mesmerising, convincing and superbly acted and directed film of a classic narrative which will envelope all drawn into it, those repaired to be immersed in the surreality of the use of language, metaphor or other driven of a tale resonant still in this millennia. It is never open or close to acclaiming itself as a definitive version. That will never be possible as the whole circuit of present day culture hovers around subjects Shakespeare has left as a jumping off point for ‘the story’, our meaningful human quest of a meaningless or impossible act of judgement of origin and place.
Such is the deserved acclaim warranted of a film which has expanded the thinking and not wasted its opportunity to shift minds and awaken things long left to sleep – that we may turn to anew – to something that is already there unknown.
1 October 2015
Showing from Friday 2 October to Thursday 15 October 2015 at QFT Belfast
and over wider distribution venues.