6.6 Overall Score
Writing: 7/10
Production: 7/10
Performances: 6/10

Shakespeare and landscapes.

Unimaginative, lacks emotion.

Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jack Madigan
StudioCanal/The Weinstein Company

“All hail Macbeth, that shall be King hereafter.” One of the witches of filmmaking whispered this to Director Justin Kurzel. And like the Thane of Glamis, he let his reach exceed his grasp, winding up in a pile of bodies, but signifying nothing.

Kurzel’s film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, starring Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender (Young Magneto), in a story of the supernatural, madness, and awful slaughters, falls prey to a couple of the curses that follow Shakespeare and the Scottish play.

Everyone delivers their lines in a whispery monotone. This is often done in bad film adaptations of Mr. Shakespeare’s work, and it is often a mistake. It robs the characters of their humanity. Go and watch Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet, 1996, or Ralph Fiennes Coriolanus, 2011, to see Shakespeare’s dialogue done properly.

I mean it. Go watch Coriolanus. He walks like an engine.

But in Kurzel’s Macbeth, everyone whispers in a monotone. Macbeth speaks his famous first line, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen,” without detectable emotion. Hey, it was a terrible bloodbath, our side won, but look at all these dead men I yesterday called friends. But emote, no, I’m not going to do that.

This director-imposed acting style serves the film even less when Macbeth wrestles with his own judgement, conscience, and wife over whether or not to murder his king and take the throne.

Another curse of the Scottish play is badly done witches. Macbeth stands amazed at the witches, stunned by their otherworldliness. They tell him that he is Thane of Cawdor, which he does not believe, and that he shall be king. When he learns that he has been made Thane of Cawdor, he decides that the witches’ prophesy that he will be king is also true. And so he becomes a regicide.

So the audience must be impressed by the witches, as the Thane is. But Kurzel’s witches are as unimpressive as they get. They deliver their dialogue in whispery monotone. They look just like peasant women standing in a field. There is nothing supernatural or otherworldly about them, except marks between their eyes that look like they were picked up at half price the day after the Star Trek convention. Although the dialogue directly speaks of them vanishing into thin air more than once, what they actually do on screen is merely walk off into the mist. If the witches can’t convince us, then the film can’t convince us.

The mist brings us to the setting. Shakespeare is often done in modern dress, like Hawke’s Hamlet, or no particular period, or in a generic Elizebethan England. But The Tragedy of Macbeth is set in medieval Scotland, and Kurzel goes for it like a double helping of steaming haggis. There are so many rugged crags and banks of mist, it’s like “Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender, and…SCOTLAND”.

Kurzel does resist the siren song of the helicopter shot, instead presenting the bleak and beautiful northwestern edge of Europe as his characters would have seen it.

This adaptation of the Scottish Play is unremarkable. In the end, the only thing that stands out is the decision to interpret Macbeth’s final battle with MacDuff as Macbeth fatalistically throwing himself on MacDuff’s knife, instead of roaring into the last fatal fray like a psychotic lion. There are many better ways to see Shakespeare on film.




Brian Downes
Author: Brian Downes View all posts by
Brian Downes is a writer who lives in Orlando, Florida. His novel, The Berlin Fraternity, about a man who hunts vampires for the Third Reich, is available on the Kindle and through He enjoys pen and paper roleplaying games and geek culture. He clearly remembers waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to hit theaters, and vindicate his opinion that of course Vader was not Luke's father. You can't trust Vader's word!

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