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Film review: Macbeth – Michael Fassbender channels madness of Shakespeare’s world of pain

Commendable acting from the leads and solid support from the ensemble cast make this a gripping, bleakly beautiful big-screen adaptation of the Bard’s tale of overreaching ambition

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 8:16am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 12:52pm

4/5 stars

Australian director Justin Kurzel could be forgiven for thinking this brutal Shakespeare adaptation was robbed during awards season, where it received no major nominations. As bleakly beautiful as The Revenant , and almost as harrowing as Spotlight , it was perhaps too dark a prospect for a squeamish Academy.

Nominations or no, it’s hard to imagine a much stronger ensemble cast, even if some struggle manfully with their accents. Michael Fassbender makes a magnificently unhinged man-who-would-be-king, but more than meets his match in the spidery charms of Marion Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth.

There’s also striking support from Paddy Considine (Banquo) and Sean Harris (Macduff), two of Britain’s best screen psychos. The latter’s bereavement scene represents as powerful a piece of film acting as you’ll ever see, but it also points to a deeper truth. If Sean Harris is the good guy, we’re surely in a world of pain.

Indeed we are. From the bitterly fought first battle, which sees Macbeth kneeling among the corpses of fallen child soldiers, to Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damned spot!” soliloquy, addressed to her plague-ridden son, buried in the opening scene, grief and horror haunt every frame.

Even the setting feels diseased: the blasted heaths on which Macbeth meets the witches are shrouded in freezing fog, and Macduff’s retribution is enacted beneath a breathtakingly blood-red sky. If ruling this ruined land is the real prize, Kurzel seems to be saying, who wants it anyway?

Macbeth opens on April 7

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