DVD review: Macbeth

Whether you’ve seen it in the theatre, watched a television or film adaptation or studied it at school, the work of William Shakespeare is a quintessential part of British culture, and no play of his is more iconic than Macbeth. In the latest cinema outing for ‘The Scottish Play’, Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel directs. Following a brutal battle, the warrior Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) receives a prophecy from the Three Witches, who tell him he will one day be the King of Scotland. His wife Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), then hatches a plan, taking matters into her own hands to speed up their monarchical ascent. This leads to a psychological power struggle as his friendship with Banquo (Paddy Considine) is tested, and his controlling behaviour results in conflict with Macduff (Sean Harris). This reimagining tells the story from a slightly new angle, on a glorious Skye backdrop.

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Macbeth Premiere: Interview with Justin Kurzel


The blood spilled in Macbeth was as deep and red as the carpet at Edinburgh’s star-studded premiere at The Festival Theatre, where crowds gathered to celebrate the release of the latest adaptation of William Shakespeare’s iconic play. In its introduction, Australian director Justin Kurzel jokingly calls his latest work ‘The Scottish Film’ in reference to the well known theatre superstition of never uttering the play’s name, but jokes are nowhere to be found in his bold and brutal retelling of the story.

The highly acclaimed Michael Fassbender stars in the titular role, with Marion Cotillard by his side as the influential Lady Macbeth. The supporting cast includes Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Sean Harris and Elizabeth Debicki. Their Skye shoot was marred with horrid wind and rain, beating down to give the perfect weather-beaten backdrop for events to unfold. The premiere was much to the contrary as the sun shone on the stars to greet the fans, Fassbender revelling in signing autographs and taking selfies with his Scottish admirers.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to chat to the director of the piece Kurzel, who had an interesting take on the central character, comparing him to Breaking Bad’s Walter White, who is arguably the greatest television anti-hero of the 21st century. Discussing the odd similarity, he said, “I was watching a lot of Breaking Bad to have some freedom away from the torture of the edit and found that, like Macbeth, it is about a man going mad and descending into an evil that he can’t find a way back from.”

Bringing a Shakespeare classic to the big screen is no mean feat and the filmmaker was quick to discuss his reasons for giving it the cinematic treatment.

“It kind of read like a Western when I read the screenplay, and felt really modern. The Scottish setting made it feel very honest. It didn’t feel contrived or as if it was a prisoner to the words. The writers had a new take on the themes of ambition in the play, making it less about control and more about what you do with grief and trauma, especially being a warrior. We found that to be a really fresh and interesting take on the original material.”

He also spoke freely about the universal appeal of Macbeth, and how the story has the longevity to be told again and again without becoming stale.

“I read something the other day that stated that every four hours across the world a production of Macbeth is taking place, so I think already it is the biggest blockbuster around. I think it is whether people are engaged enough to want to see a new one because it carries a lot of baggage. People think if they’ve seen it, or read it, or studied it at school that they’ve done it so I think it’s always about offering up something fresh and new.

For us it’s about placing it back in the time in which it existed, and finding something very human and real in it. I’ve seen it now three times and it’s amazing to me how much Shakespeare keeps on repeating itself but people always want to go back for a second or third time to watch it. I think it has a lot to do with the verse because you don’t always hear or understand the verse the first time so you want to go back and get something new from it each time.”

Macbeth is available on DVD, Blu Ray and on demand.


DVD review: Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, une nuit)

Film is often celebrated for the sense of escapism it provides, the enclosed darkened rooms of the cinema proving a welcomed distraction from the outside world. In comparison to this theory, the Belgian directing brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are known for their naturalistic style, presenting real life issues on the cinematic stage. Their latest effort, ‘Two Days, One Night’ highlights the problems within the social economic system not only in the small French town in which it is set, but globally. Marion Cotillard stars as the depression stricken mother Sandra who returns to work after a leave of absence at a solar panel plant to find that her colleagues have chosen to accept a bonus instead of her keeping her minimum wage job. She has the weekend, as the title suggests, to overturn the vote, approaching them one by one in a desperate plea to save her livelihood.
  The pace of the narrative is plodding as Sandra travels by bus to most of her workmates to explain her situation, hoping to appeal to their better, kinder natures. Coming from a documentary-making background, the Dardenne brothers achieve the feat of showing these emotive visits in such a realistic manner with no schmaltz or sentimentality in sight. The camera work is basic but at times breathtaking, and before long it’s hard not to get behind the protagonist and hope that her co-workers will see her point of view and decide to turn away their €1,000 payout so that Sandra can keep an income to support her husband and child. The stripped back aim of the project can somewhat hamper the enjoyment of it as the plot gets repetitive, Sandra repeating her tale of woe nearly word for word each time, but then again unemployment isn’t exactly an enjoyable prospect.
  Having long since made the jump from her Parisian roots to acting in the English language, working in Hollywood with some of the biggest names in the industry, it is satisfying to watch Marion Cotillard put in an arguably career-best performance in her mother-tongue language. Understatedly brilliant, she never overdoes it demonstrating the heartache her character is suffering and her acting is subtly powerful when Sandra reaches moments of dire straits. In my initial reactions to watching the film, I found that not opting for dramatic highly strung scenes was strange but her quiet depiction of mental health will creep up on you days, or weeks afterwards.
  A restrained social commentary on not only depression but the recession, the Dardenne brothers offer up a movie which isn’t easy to love, but one that you can help stepping back and taking note of. It’s an incredibly relevant piece of film-making and bruising to the modern society we find ourselves in, putting the two-faced culture of working environments on the big screen. Cotillard is excellent in her sincere surroundings, away from the glitz and glamour of blockbuster cinema but in the epicentre of real life.
See the trailer: