Toil and trouble in Macbeth

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Shakespeare’s plays have long proved a rich vein for movie-makers and this week’s DVD is the latest attempt to get something new out of the Bard. We’re looking at Macbeth.

Making a few changes to the Shakespearean source material, the film charts the rise and fall of the infamous 11th Century Scot. The focus is on fighting as we see Macbeth going from warlord to leader of the nation before meeting a spectacularly violent demise.

Australian Justin Kurzel is the director bringing the Scottish tragedy to the screen and it looks like he might have taken inspiration by that other famously Aussie-tinged Scottish epic Braveheart. Certainly, the bone-crunching brutality of that earlier film is here in spades.

It’s grim stuff but impressively realised with Kurzel firmly grounding the story in the mud and blood of the battlefield. What we get is a film which can’t help but hold your attention, thanks in no small part to a powerful turn from the movie’s leading man.

Iconic Shakespearean roles have always had an attraction to big-name actors and this time Michael Fassbender takes the lead. He brings physicality and passion to the performance, not to mention a passable Scottish accent and imposing glower.

This is a movie defined by the violence at the core of the Macbeth story. When Fassbender snarls “is this a dagger which I see before me?” you can’t help but recognise that the dagger will inevitably soon be sticking out of someone’s gut.

The equally-iconic role of Lady Macbeth goes to the French actress Marion Cottillard. She does well to match Fassbender’s striking intensity but is sadly less impressive in the accent department, coming up with something vaguely halfway between Paris and Peterhead.

Kurzel’s Macbeth is an extremely well-realised but relentlessly grim film; a vision of a nation in turmoil and a man driven to ruin by his own ambition, packed with powerful speeches and violent encounters. It makes for a challenging but worthwhile watch.