Macbeth Review: The Serpent’s Tongue

Macbeth Article

Words: Brody Rossiter
Twitter: @BrodyRossiter


Heavy feet clamber over the Scottish highland; the lifeless soil as black as a starless night. Thick, grey skies, encumbered with rain and otherworldly echoes seemingly fall to the earth. Weary, bearded faces are striped with war paint and a symphony of unsheathed swords parting life from thrashing figures breaks the silence before once again being consumed by the restless elements. Macbeth’s opening battle ushers in a technically complex and deeply affecting piece of filmmaking that endures from beginning to end.

Justin Kurzel’s intoxicating realisation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is an unforgettable adaptation of a widely taught tale that remains faithful to the source material while establishing its own distinct claim to the fevered legend. Its profundity lies in both the Bard of Avon’s verse – dialogue is spoken as it were written – and the Australian director’s vision. A bruising and often severely beautiful collection of imagery collated by cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, the man responsible for framing the callous narratives of David Michod’s Animal Kingdom and Kurzel’s previous feature, The Snowtown Murders, with his expansive sense of dread.

It proves difficult not to divide Macbeth into its many highly accomplished elements. Performances and technical aspects convene in an endlessly rewarding manner as moody style and centuries-old substance go hand in hand throughout the narrative, yet the distinctions of those various elements are far too great to not acknowledge for their own merits.

Marion Cotillard’s deeply ambitious and serpentine portrayal of Lady Macbeth grows increasingly abrasive. Her poisonous, emasculating words drip into Macbeth’s ear, enlivening his weary mind and body before casting his soul into an eternal despair. Her sounds conjure his fury. Fassbender delivers an endlessly physical performance as the thane who would become king, slashing, stabbing and writhing with emotional torment – at his best, the actor is unparalleled. David Thewlis, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Elizabeth Debicki and the many others that dwell in the ranks of a stoic supporting cast only strengthen the morbid aura that gradually swallows the ill-fated characters they portray.

Jed Kurzel’s rousing sound design howls and pines, mirroring the hostile lands thrown into disarray by Macbeth’s murderous actions. The score is invaluable and naturalistic accompaniment to what occurs onscreen, growing more elegant and refined as the plot careers toward its spectacular finale.

Many will already know Macbeth’s treacherous tale yet few will have envisioned such a hypnotic re-telling. So often that which was intended for a stage feels like a pretender to the cinema screen, however Kurzel’s direction and recruitment form a magnificent cinematic experience. Yes, the competition amongst these elements of filmmaking creates distinct layers that often compete against one another, but when the contest is a daring and engaging as this, a little overshadowing can be ignored.





Macbeth is available on VOD January 25th and on DVD & Blu-ray from February 1st courtesy of Studiocanal. Pre-order your copy here.

2 thoughts on “Macbeth Review: The Serpent’s Tongue

    1. Cheers Dan. The strength of the visual elements immediately won me over, and are ultimately the reason why I was willing to overlook the film’s less developed elements. Kurzel clearly had his own vision and wasn’t willing to compromise.

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