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Fassbender - Macbeth

Michael Fassbender as Macbeth

I finally caught up with Justin Kurzel’s ‘Macbeth‘, and it is a real pig’s breakfast – Noggin the Nog meets Once Upon a Time in the West!

The scenery is bleakly magnificent, but Kurzel succeeds in making it look more like a wet weekend in the Greenland of Erik the Red than 11th Century Scotland. Battles take the form of mud-wrestling with dirks in Braveheart warpaint.  Michael Fassbender and most of the rest of the cast toy with versions of mumbled Lowland demotic. Sadly, nobody seems to have told Marion Cotillard, who delivers her lines theatrically in mannered Shakespearean English, hurriedly gabbling her way through her first crucial scene as if she were worried about missing her bus. Sean Harris seems to base his performance as Macduff on the insight that his character’s name rhymes with gruff.

As a mere thane, Macbeth appears to live in a flimsy shanty town in the middle of a Highland peat bog. After he becomes king, he and his missus are able to move into an elegant castle in the high Norman style. ‘More than enough motive for murder there I would have thought.

On the positive side, Lynn Kennedy, Kayla Fallon, Seylan Baxter and Amber Rissmann make a good job of the weird sisters, steering well clear of cackling crone clichés.  And David Hayman puts in a good performance as Lennox, a man careful to stay on the right side of power.

Where Kurzel meddles with Shakespeare’s tale, it is not for the better.  Why would even a deranged Macbeth have Macduff’s wife and children taken to his castle and publicly burnt at the stake, a fate reserved for witches and heretics?  Shakespeare wisely has them dispatched at a distance by the king’s henchmen.  “The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?”  Kurzel’s reworking of the story leaves Lady Macbeth with little room for doubt.  And if Macbeth were anachronistically ensconced within the sturdy keep of a Normanised Dunsinane, why would he abandon the strength of that position to fight Macduff on open ground outside?

Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa have both made better jobs of filming the Scottish play.