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Macbeth (2015)

Originally written December 12, 2015.

This post is likely to bore most of you (if you even bother to read it all), but I wanted to carefully catalogue my plusses and minuses for this new Macbeth adaptation, for posterity. Why? ‘Cuz it’s my favorite Shakespeare play!!

 

MOSTLY POSITIVES

  • The backdrop. Snow-capped mountains, rolling highlands and a cold, crashing sea all made for gorgeous tapestries against which the actors stood in stark relief. (+)

  • The dirt. As one of Shakespeare's bloodiest plays (Top 5!), it's vital that this not be a sterile experience. Kurzel thoroughly nailed the dirt, grime, mud, rain, blood and gore of the production. He could have taken it even further, but I was satisfied. Even a bit squicked out, myself when . . . (++)

  • Macbeth drinks blood and bites someone's ear off. Why!?! Yuck-o. (---)

  • The score by Jed Kurzel (almost certainly some relative of director Justin Kurzel, but this wasn't just nepotism at work). It assaults you right from the beginning, forcing you to brace yourself for what's to come. Sadly, it becomes forgettable, repetitive and pedestrian about a third of the way through the movie but that opener is a stunner. (+/---)

  • The witches. I was kind of put off by the sheer blasphemy of breaking the "rule of three" by including a couple of junior witches in the bunch, but by the end of the film, I was 100% sold on the concept. The witches were creepy instead of campy (as they can often be), and used effectively in scenes they never originally appeared in, in the play. Though most of their lines were cut, they said a lot with silence -- especially the youngest one. And who the hell is the witch-baby's baby-daddy?! Holy backstory, Batman!! (+++)

  • The opening scene with the funeral of a Macbeth child. This is another creative decision that caused me to make a face, at first . . . then paid off dividends down the road. It CAN be interpreted in the text that they had (a) kid(s), but I always thought of it as still births. But it added great subtext to Lady M.'s lines about dashing her own child's head against the ground rather than going back on her word, all the lines about Macbeth having no heirs, and made that scene where he discusses killing Banquo (While holding a dagger to her barren womb!!) the best I've ever seen. (+)

  • David Thewlis as Duncan. This short-lived character is always a little boring, but Thewlis brought something particular to the role, and that oh-too-brief shot of him personally executing the first Thane of Cawdor (by longbow!!!) alongside his son was a great touch. (+)

  • Paddy Considine as Banquo. Frankly, I thought the guy who kicked so much ass in "Dead Man's Shoes" would have been better cast as MacDuff -- or even Macbeth himself! But I'll take what I can get. (++)

  • Warrior Macbeth. His battle prowess gets some mentions in the text, but we never get to see it. This is the first adaptation which really focused on his fighting skills and showed us how merciless he can be in combat. (+)

  • Having the famous dagger scene be Macbeth talking to a vision of one of his fallen troops instead of himself. Hmmm . . . that scene is so important for establishing his mental state that I kind of rode the fence, but in the end I decided it worked, and that's the most important thing. (+/---)

  • Fleance! This is a character normally overlooked or not even cast at all, but young Lochlann Harris did a great job in the part, and I loved his escape with help from the witch baby. It's like they made their own prophesy come true! Why are they interfering with fate!? Another (+) for hidden witch-baby backstory!! (++)

  • The sexual chemistry between the Macbeths. I've rarely seen that played, and never seen it played so well. Is that just because this is the most attractive couple to play the roles in the history of ever? Is it merely the power of Fassbender's legendary member, which gets its own scene in this movie? The answer's unknown, but the effect's apparent. (+)

  • Having Macduff and Malcolm burn the woods instead of dress their soldiers as trees was visually arresting and made a nice backdrop to the final fight. (Though I still wish Paddy Considine had been doing it. 😕 ) (+)

  • Burning the Macduffs ALIVE?!? I see someone's a Game of Thrones fan. But still . . . that's fuuuuuucked up. Nicely played, and a great catalyst for Lady M. to start losing her damn mind. (++)

  • The photo I used was the best screenshot I could find of the banquet where Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost, which was magnificently staged. (+)


MOSTLY NEGATIVES

  • Fassbender's attempted Scottish accent. Woof! That's a tough one. So tough, they deliberately lampshaded it in "Gosford Park." I know he's all A-list now, but he really should've spent some time with a dialect coach who wasn't afraid to tell him the truth. (---)

  • Slooooooo mooooooo. (---)

  • So many missing key lines! I know they can't put the whole play in there, OK, but come on . . . where's the juicy stuff about how "Macbeth hath murder'd sleep" (He's in bed a lot in the movie, but doesn't sleep much . . . still, the line is key.) and his wife's lines about the hoarse raven? I get why they cut out the references to battlements, because . . . (---)

  • There were no other castles!! Inverness is a fuckin' campground?? How are people NOT gonna see Macbeth wandering around a bunch of tents and cabins mumbling to himself while he's holding a dagger? Then it starts pouring -- nice visual effect, but it doesn't take a 21st century CSI team to follow muddy footprints from the king's tent back to the Macbeth cabin. Plus the castles add a certain drear and gloom and sense of entrapment to the play -- a literal stone fortress, closing in. All that open space was purty (as I mentioned above), but I wanted my castles back. (---)

  • But on the other hand, Bamburgh castle was so deeply awesome as the royal seat of Dunsinane that it almost made up for having literally zero other castles in the movie. Almost. If it hadn't been so obviously of a different time period, I might have given the whole castle issue a pass. (+/---)

  • After killing the king, Macbeth delivers part of his famous soliloquy *to the king's son,* who then flees. It's like they didn't want any character ever talking to themselves in this flick. Hello, that's half of Shakespeare, people. Besides, it made the son look ridiculous to run off when he had eyewitness proof that his father was murdered. (---)

  • Why go visit the witches while wearing a nightgown? I get that your mind is troubled, but you're a king, dammit. Put some pants on. (---)

  • The final prophesies were told out of order, which ruined the dramatic tension. As did having his dead troops wander through to deliver the lines, instead of something resembling the traditional visions (severed head, bloody baby, etc.) (---)

  • Ending with red skies. Meh. (---)



TLDR?


We wound up with +20 and only -15. That puts this adaptation firmly in the WIN column, albeit by the skin of its awesomely creepy witches.


SCORE: 7

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