To those currently studying English or to those who already have (however many years ago it may be now), William Shakespeare is common subject territory. Having written what have been hailed as, arguably, some of the greatest plays ever, his works have lent themselves to the big screen countless times before. The latest adaptation to join the ranks is the latest retelling of the playwright's renowned Macbeth, directed by Justin Kurzel. All hail.

To those not familiar with the classic tale, the story of Macbeth follows our eponymous hero (Michael Fassbender) as a Thane of Scotland. However, when he receives a prophecy from three witches saying that he will become the King of Scotland, he is consumed by the thirst for power and by his wife Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) which leads him to killing the current King Duncan (David Thwelis) and taking the throne for himself. But, as the power gets to his head just as the guilt begins to eat him alive, Macbeth and his wife soon start to find that they're both slowly losing their minds as the corruption and power struggle only increases and causes things to spin further out of control.

If you were one of those kids that fell asleep during the lessons where you'd read Shakespeare and were just never a fan of his work, this film is not for you. If you like fluffy films with a happy ending, this is not for you. If you're not a fan of historical epic films, this is not for you. However, if you like ruthless violence and bloody, gory battle sequences, absolutely breathtaking scenery, an enthralling premise and some intricate, compelling character work, this is for you. Kurzel's take on the infamous king's story is an invigorating piece of drama that will reel you in, toss you around and leave you battle-wounded, not knowing what hit you - blinded by the sheer brilliance of the film. Macbeth is traditional Shakespeare though, sticking close to the source material - very traditional in its dialogue and it's approach and it's style. However, it also elevates the material because this is the best the playwright has ever been before; alive and exhilarating and compelling.

Kurzel's vision is astounding and, visually, Macbeth is eye candy. This is one of the most gorgeously shot films this year. The cinematography is Oscar-calibre and the bright and vivid colours from the burning orange sky to the grey clouds of smoke during a war sequence are simply remarkable. This is a film that is so visually stunning that it gets dizzying - there is literally a scene in which it is so bright it hurts, yet it's so striking that it's hard to look away. The battle scenes are a delight to watch, so raw and violent. The use of slow-motion makes the action so much more brutal and real. This is a relentless, bloody and ultra violent film yet it never once feels contrived or cheap or clich├ęd and it all makes sense and doesn't feel like your typical action blockbuster fare. It's brutally beautiful and beautifully brutal, quite literally. From the first frame to the last, this film never once let's up and looks utterly outstanding - from the shots of the stunning Scotland landscape to each drop of blood spilt on-screen.
Whilst this is a visually material piece of work, it's the characters that really makes this film as good as it is. This adaption of the play really delves deeper, a lot deeper, into the psyche of all our characters and it's more so an intense, intriguing and finely crafted character study than anything else - really fine tuning and focusing on its players. The acting, from the whole cast, is generally very solid. Everyone is on their A-game and delivers such stellar performances. Paddy Considine excels as Banquo; David Thwelis fits the role of King Duncan - intimidating and fierce; and it's lovely to see Jack Reynor making a fine appearance too. Honestly, the supporting cast do a rather fine job indeed. However, it's our pair of 'protagonists' - Macbeth and Lady Macbeth - that really steal the show. Fassbender and Cotillard were born for these roles.

The pair have been perfectly cast and it's hard to imagine anyone else in these roles. The former gives not only the best performance of his career but possibly one of best performances of the year as our titular King. Fassbender truly embodies the character and is intimidating and ruthless yet fragile and broken too and, despite everything he has done, you can't help but empathise for his pain. He inhibits the skin of Macbeth so much to the extent that you forget you're watching an actor and wholly believe and look at the actor as only the King. Cotillard is phenomenal too. Stepping away a little from the usual corrupt bitch she is portrayed as in the play, Cotillard's Lady Macbeth, whilst still aggressive and power hungry, is a lot more vulnerable and human too - like her husband. She poisons her husband's mind but she poisons the audience's minds too, getting them on her side. Her corruption is a result of how broken she is and how fragile we see her as and it adds a nice arc and fresh new dynamic to the character and there is some veritable chemistry between the pair too.

Honestly, it's difficult to fault Kurzel's adaption of Macbeth. It's a riveting and inspired film that truly gets to the white-knuckle, knitty-gritty of its characters and stays close to the source material; rather traditional and classic Shakespeare fare. However, it's almost too inspired - to the point that there's nothing new here. Whilst it's still entertaining as hell, there's no ingenuity or atypical twists added to this tale to liven things up. The film opens on a high with an intense and immensely engaging battle but it almost struggles to keep up with that momentum and pace and the exposition and setting up of the actual premise drags on a little and feels a little slow, with Fassbender's early speeches not quite as hard-hitting as what follows either - in what is a high-wire, pulse-pounding and non-stop thriller. Other than that though, Macbeth is essential viewing - for any moviegoer looking for a thoroughly epic picture, or for any English scholars or even budding filmmakers and actors as it offers some of the best directing, acting and camerawork in a film in some time. All hail Macbeth, all hail Fassbender, all hail Cotillard and all hail Kurzel for this is cinema at its finest; an exhilarating and extraordinary triumph. 

Justin Kurzel's Macbeth is, quite literally, a breathtaking, visceral and absolutely astounding experience that compels and never once lets up. Shakespeare has never been more alive!

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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