Film Review: Macbeth at Exeter’s Picturehouse

As the new, arguably most haunting Macbeth adaptation to date hits cinemas this October, Laura and Ciaran take a trip to Exeter’s Picturehouse to find out what makes Justin Kurzel’s film so bewitching.

The thought of reviewing Macbeth at Picturehouse had kept us going all week; and it didn’t disappoint. With just two screens, comfy and spacious cinema-seating and its own snack bar complete with free Wi-Fi, Picturehouse offers a unique and personal cinema experience which larger cinemas noticeably lack. It caters for people of all ages, particularly students who can benefit from Student Membership cards for just £15. These allow you to get two free tickets, up to £2 discount on film tickets and 10% discount on Picturehouse food for the year. Picturehouse is also in partnership with E4, providing students with the opportunity to join E4 Slacker’s Club, which allows you to see new blockbusters and old-school classics entirely for FREE (so no need to break the student budget).

Picturehouse thus offered the perfect environment to watch Macbeth in. We were sitting on the edge of our seats for the duration; perhaps with the suspense being built from our knowledge of the play from previous studying, or the promise that Kurzel’s adaptation must do something new with the screen play to distinguish itself from the 16 previous Macbeth adaptations since 1900. This originality was indeed delivered, in the form of the explicit references to the death of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s child which the script merely hints at (“I have given suck and know how tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me”). This is observed in the opening scene, where a child is placed on a funeral pyre with the title characters standing over him, as well as when Marion Cotillard delivers Lady Macbeth’s famous “out,damned spot” soliloqy to (what the audience presumes is) a hallucination of her dead child. By adding these scenes to his adaptation, Kurzel fills in the holes left by Shakespeare in his play and offers a whole new meaning; the Macbeths are victims of death. They suffered the loss of a child whose death haunts every scene, until they spiral towards their own inevitable deaths. Consequently, the audience has the ability to sympathise with Cotillard and Fassbenderwhich isn’t felt as strongly in previous adaptations. Many critics have suggested that Macbeth is likened to a war-weary general, whose visions are brought about by post-traumatic stress disorder, which offers a further angle to the film. The treatment of the witches also shows the freshness of Kurzel’s adaptation; the famous “double double toil and trouble” scene is removed, and the witches are depicted throughout with an earthly realism instead of a supernatural mysticism.

An example of Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography.

Another factor which stands out in this adaptation is the arresting power of the cinematography. Building upon the text, the symbolism of colour is forced upon you from the opening sequence, and the blood-red background against which Macbeth stands introduces the spine-chilling tension which lingers for the rest of the film. This is swiftly followed by wide shots of a bleak, cold environment, and the continual emphasis on this setting gives us a sense of how intrinsic it is for the identity of the characters. The violence of the play is also explored through the cinematography; the battle scenes are depicted with cuts from suspenseful slow-motion to high-energy combat, with the camera placed directly in the middle of the action. The focus on using natural light throughout contributes to the raw, gritty aesthetic of the film, but it also means that any sense of distance between you and the action is non-existent; you become completely engrossed as the story unfolds.

Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard give a chilling performance as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

However, Kurzel’s innovative presentation of the text, complimented by the striking visual imagery, takes nothing away from the brilliance of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Both actors give masterful performances, and the soliloquies in particular are performed with a mesmerising emotional range and an attention to the subtleties of the text. As mentioned, director Justin Kurzel wanted to explore the idea of Macbeth being afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder, and Fassbender convincingly conveys a paranoid mind “full of scorpions” which gradually realises the folly of its ambition. Marion Cotillard is deeply compelling as Lady Macbeth. The method in which she develops the character from the essence of evil to an almost pitiful victim of grief brings such originality to one of the most notorious anti-heroines in theatrical history. Although Fassbender and Cotillard undoubtedly steal the show, there are great supporting performances from David Thewlis, Elizabeth Debicki, Sean Harris & Paddy Considine.

Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play is bold, imaginative and exciting, and we highly recommend that you experience it for yourself at Exeter Picturehouse!

Laura Leichtfried and Ciaran Austin

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