Friday, 13 November 2015

Cate Buxton, who works at Royal Derby Hospital, is a regular participant of our Shakespeare Night public workshops. This is her review of the new Macbeth film that she saw at QUAD last week. 

Macbeth posterI’d been looking forward to seeing the new film interpretation of Shakespeare’s play about witchcraft and murder, and we’d booked tickets for a special late showing at QUAD, Derby's centre for art and film. Special because it was to be introduced by Ben Spiller, artistic director of 1623 theatre company whose motto is 'see Shakespeare differently'.

Ben’s introduction demonstrated his passion for Shakespeare, and he treated us to a few speeches from the play, including my favourite one spoken by Lady Macbeth as she learns that the Scottish King, Duncan, will be staying at her castle that very night. 
Ben also asked a very interesting question about Lady Macbeth, who tells 'spirits that tend on mortal thoughts' to 'come to my woman's breasts and take my milk for gall': where is the baby that she must have had recently to have milk in her breasts? She has no baby in the play. Ben hinted that the forthcoming film provides an answer.

Indeed, the film starts with a highland funeral, that of a baby, which we see was the child of Lady Macbeth. The childlessness of the Macbeths became important to this interpretation of the play as it haunted them throughout the film and tortured their minds with intense grief.  

The highland scenery throughout the film is stunning, and beautifully coloured, although it makes you think you really only want to see Scotland from inside a car or coach, it looks an extremely wild landscape, bleak and very inhospitable. Filming was done on the Scottish Isle of Skye, and also at Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland.

Cut then to a battle, and in the thick of the fighting Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) spies four female figures, stock still at the edge of the action, watching. This is our first sight of Shakespeare’s weird sisters, in this film there are four of them; two women, a younger girl and a child (who is silent). I liked this film’s interpretation of the weird sisters, they looked very…..well, weird! Marked out more by their odd behaviour (standing perfectly still at the very edge of a fearsome battle, just staring), than their faces or clothes, but I did like the additional feature of an odd but subtle facial mark, just above and between the eyebrows.

As the battle ends, the camera focuses on one young soldier with striking blue eyes, who has been cut down. Macbeth seems to have been very close to this young man, such that I wondered if he was maybe an older brother to the dead baby whose funeral we witnessed at the beginning of the film.

Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender as the MacbethsThe three older weird sisters tell Macbeth and his comrade, Banquo (Paddy Considine), of their predictions, and a letter passes this news on to Lady Macbeth. She also hears from a messenger that the Scottish King, Duncan, will be staying at their her castle that evening. I say castle, as Lady Macbeth says, 'The raven himself is hoarse
 that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
 under my battlements'. It was, however an interesting and novel interpretation in the film, to have King Duncan staying overnight with the Macbeths in a rather luxurious (for Scotland in the 11th century!) encampment, rather than a traditional castle. (I was disappointed that some later lines of this, in my opinion, key speech of a Lady Macbeth’s, were cut).

So, the plot to murder the King is hatched between Macbeth and his wife. Macbeth almost immediately begins to have misgivings. The director, Justin Kurzel, did a clever trick with the famous scene in which Macbeth sees a dagger before him……he sees the dagger offered to him by the spectre of the striking blue-eyed youth who met his end in the battle earlier. This part was played by a young actor called Scot Greenan, and this part was a brilliant take on the supernatural element of the play.

Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender as the Macbeths
In contrast to this, I wasn’t keen on how the film portrayed Banquo’s ghost when he appears to Macbeth during a feast after he has been crowned king. Banquo just stands in the banqueting hall looking quite deadpan (sorry, no pun intended!). I also thought that the etiquette at this feast was so odd on the part of all the guests, that it was difficult to spot that Macbeth was behaving oddly! A nice touch was the large crowd of churchmen dressed as bishops, at the feast, to emphasise the power of the church at the time.

This is the first version of Macbeth I’ve seen in which we actually see the brutal murder at first hand. A great twist here is that, instead of concealing Duncan’s murder, Macbeth is seen as obviously guilty by Malcolm, Duncan’s son, but Malcolm chooses to flee to England without accusing Macbeth. This means the scene where Macbeth and his wife show each other their bloodied hands would not make sense and so is omitted.

The film was gratuitously bloodthirsty all the way through; when Macbeth finally meets his end, this scene, where Macduff slices at Macbeth’s belly and blood spurts out, unfortunately reminded me of Monty Python’s comedy knights who have a limb knocked off and proclaim it as 'just a flesh wound!'

Marion Cotillard as Lady MacbethOverall the character of Lady Macbeth (played by Marion Cotillard) was given less importance in the film; her madness after the murder is committed is not made much of, the scene where she sleepwalks was also cut down in this version. As she begins to lose her grip on reality, and her influence over her husband wanes, (“Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck……” he says to her, to fob her off), she is seen in a small highland chapel, and her dead baby appears before her, another hint of the supernatural elements of the story.

As Macbeth’s reign continues, he becomes more insecure and tyrannical; he tries to have Banquo and his son Fleance, murdered, and is furious when this is bungled and Fleance escapes. 
No such luck for Macduff’s entire family; Macbeth is enraged to learn that Macduff has fled to England to join forces with Malcolm against Macbeth. In other versions of the play that I’ve seen, the murder of Macduff’s wife and family is done by a few soldiers breaking into their home and murdering them; in this film they are all publicly burned at the stake. This struck me as rather odd; Macbeth has obviously not understood the power of spin and PR to hide such a foul deed from his remaining loyal men…….or did he chose to publicise their deaths to show people what happens if he is crossed? 

Things eventually go horribly wrong for Macbeth and he is slain in battle by the vengeful Macduff. 
Overall, I was disappointed by the film; for such an action-packed story it felt quite slow, even boring in places. Macbeth mostly mutters monotonously throughout the film, and my favourite character in the play, Lady Macbeth’s role was diminished. I found myself on occasions, for example near the end, worrying about details such as whether showing Macbeth inside a huge gothic church was architecturally anachronistic, as the film seemed to be attempting to show real life as it was in the eleventh century. 
I’m glad I saw it, as there were some novel ideas, but I won’t be rushing out to buy the DVD.



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