Elizabethan London

Elizabethan London
Tyburn was an infamous execution spot west of London, used since medieval times. The Tyburn "tree" - a unique, multi-person gallows - erected in 1571 became a popular public spectacle, drawing crowds of thousands.Tyburn Tree blog is less blood-thirsty but hopefully topical, interesting and informative, if slightly bent to my personal topics of interest - books, writing, history, technology, with a smattering of politics and dash of pop culture, science and the downright strange. So "take a ride to Tyburn" and see what happens...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Shakespeare at the Movies: Macbeth

Macbeth (2015)

Director: Justin Kurzel
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jack Madigan

I am in blood, stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er."

Macbeth is a dark ride.

Always one of Shakespeare's most powerful plays, Macbeth provides a heady mix of power, witchcraft, madness and malevolence. Written by Shakespeare in 1605, in the wake of the failed Gunpowder Plot to assassinate the newly crowned King James I (along with Parliament), Macbeth treads a deliberate path, tugging the political threads of the end of the Elizabethan era and the rise of the Jacobean period. The bard played on James I Scottish ancestry, his familiarity with the tale, leavened with a dark and dangerous cast of witchcraft and the occult, with which James I had a very specific interest.

The film, starring Michael Fassbender as Macbeth, with Marion Cotillard as his manipulative wife, is a solid and unsettling piece of work. By turns bleak, grim, and haunting, the film does an excellent job bringing Shakepeare's horrific tale to life, supported by terrific performances, and a washed out colour scheme that lends the film a tone like a flensed skull.

Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis, is the recipient of a strange prophecy after winning a vicious war on behalf of King Duncan. Told by the Weird Sisters that he was destined to become King of Scotland, and spurred on by his ambitious wife, Macbeth murders Duncan, framing (and executing) the household guards for the deed. Having no sons and fearing the Weird Sister's prophecy that Banquo would be come "the father of Kings", Macbeth has three assassins brutally murder Banquo and his son. The scene is brilliantly and harrowingly played, with the son escaping after watching his father's horrific death.

Macbeth is haunted by visions of Banquo's ghost and begins what is a very believable slide into madness, a madness that sends McDuff and his wife fleeing the court, but to no avail. Warned by his ghostly visions to "beware McDuff",  Macbeth orders McDuff's family hunted down and consigned to the flames.

At this point, I genuinely needed a break from the film. It is a brutal scene - not for any graphic violence - but for the pure, inescapable despair and horror the scene generates. The execution of McDuff's family sends Lady Macbeth over the brink and Macbeth wakes to find his wife dead beside him (presumably by suicide).

At this point, with encroaching armies courtesy of Malcolm (the proper heir to the dead King Duncan) and McDuff, Macbeth fires the Birnham Woods (fulfiling the last part of the witches' prophecies by bringing Birnham Wood to the castle "until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill /Shall come against him". Macbeth faces off with McDuff and is duly dispatched by the man "not born of woman", Malcolm assumes the throne of Scotland, everyone shouts "There can only be one" and the movie ends.

Well, not that last bit. Really. Sorry, I needed a bit of levity after sitting through the film.

Macbeth is an excellent adaptation of Shakepeare's dark ride and well worth a viewing, however much existential despair it generates afterwards. The acting is terrific, the setting appropriately bleak and chill, and the overall atmosphere of the film is one of unformed dread.

Go see it, but go out and have a nice cheerful dessert afterwards. You will probably need it.

 "O full of scorpions, is my mind...." Macbeth, Act III, Scene II

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