The story of Macbeth needs no introduction. One of Shakespeare’s most famous works, it’s a story that only seems to grow with time. Putting it on the big screen in 2015 is a tough task for that very reason. The list of names who have filled the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth reads like an introduction to acting royalty. From Kenneth Branagh to James McAvoy. From Judi Dench to Alex Kingston. Whether on stage or screen, they are large shoes to step into. So how do you make an adaptation of the Scottish Play stand out?
Well, casting Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the central roles is a good start. Fassbender’s intensity was made for this and his Macbeth is more a soldier than a politician. In fact, his story could almost be interpreted as a man suffering from PTSD and his descent into madness is fascinating to watch. This does have the effect of limiting Lady Macbeth though. She takes a backseat to Fassbender and while Cotillard is wonderful in the role, she is less controlling that some Lady Macbeth’s, coming across as a willing but unsure companion in their strive for power.
While those two are front and centre, they are aided by one hell of a cast surrounding them. Paddy Considine is unrecognisable from the recent Miss You Already as the battle hardened Banquo. While Sean Harris brings an intensity to MacDuff that almost steals the show. This film is stacked with talent and much like The Martian, it insures that is was unlikely to ever fail.
The biggest decision made here though is to strip back the writing itself and instead allow the scenery of Scotland to tell its own tale. This is a barren wilderness as cruel as it is beautiful and as witches fade in and out of the fog, they seem no more unlikely than the men that surround them. The world that birthed these men and women is hard and fierce and you learn more from it than you could in a million lines of dialogue. Not to dismiss the obviously iconic writing, but the decision to strip that back and allow Scotland is the best one this film makes.
Macbeth is Macbeth. You all know the story and you come into this not wondering what will happen, but pondering how they will get to what must. Macbeth makes this journey interesting and while it has a lot of history to compete with, it does enough to stake its own claim to a seat at the table.