Michael Fassbender plays the titular character – a Scottish Thain with cut-throat ambitions and a murderous instinct. When some strange women prophesise that he will one day be King of Scotland he decides to hurry things along, with the help of his wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard). Apparently it’s based on some kind of play or something.
This adaptation exploits the rolling Scottish scenery for all its bleak beauty as it squeezes every drop of blood out of Shakespeare’s already gruesome tale. Every shot is like an oil painting, finding beauty in the darkness, much like Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia.
The soundtrack’s Celtic discords are the audio embodiment of this legend of misery. The searing noise never gives us a second’s respite from the imposing atmosphere. In the pantheon of bleak films this proudly takes its place alongside The Road, Wuthering Heights and Threads, and is the most depressing film set in Scotland since You’ve Been Trumped.
It makes alterations to the plot, but not ones I feel particularly well qualified to comment on given my limited Shakespearean knowledge. Having said that, Lady Macbeth does seem more of an unfortunate accomplice than the fully-qualified villainess that has made her name by-word for a villainous spouse.
Fassbender brings his natural intensity to the role. Cotillard also gives a teriffic performance, but her accent betrays the authenticity of a film which has clearly gone to great lengths to recreate its period setting. She doesn’t sound French, but veers dangerously close to Natalie Portman in The Phantom Menace at times, and occasionally sounds like she’s whispering to mask her uncertainty.
It rightly doesn’t shy away from any of the violence, and while not verbatim Shakespeare, doesn’t dumb down in search of wider appeal. As such it may be hard to follow for those not already familiar with the story. But by the film’s end its impact will be felt even if you have no idea what’s going on, thanks to the painstakingly well crafted atmosphere.
Is this a damn good film I see before me? Yes it is.