William Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted on stage and screen countless times, and Macbeth is no different. While the slow-motion action sequences and sharp visuals are elements only feasible now, it is not enough to warrant another version of a play already adapted by cinematic greats such as Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, and Roman Polanski. On the other hand, significant changes to the source material do not have to be made for the sake of modernisation. Fortunately, Kurzel’s Macbeth balances this well. It has its own identity, and is selective in how it engages with the original text. The play itself is so rich in characters, theme, and language, that the director could take another run at it and make an entirely different film.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are humanised from the outset, with a focus on the loss of their child absent from other interpretations, a void that marks their behaviour, plans and decisions throughout. There is also a far greater sense of intimacy than most versions, each light touch between the two emphasised. Both actors have the ability to bring charm and sensuality to roles that are otherwise ruthless, but they also have the on-screen chemistry required to make their interactions work. Cotillard in particular embodies the role like no other, transitioning from a reptilian coldness to absolute sorrow with ease. The scenes in which they do not appear are eased by the supporting cast. Jack Reynor’s Malcolm is mostly relegated to reacting to events, and comes across as passive, but the actor brings such pathos to these few scenes that they have emotional weight. Macduff is the noble mirror of Macbeth that is often less compelling, but Sean Harris’ performance is full of the intensity needed to keep us invested.