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Film / Macbeth (2015)

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Macbeth is a 2015 film directed Justin Kurzel.

It is, of course, an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is first seen crushing a rebellion of the traitorous Macdonwald, in a brutal battle. Blood is still dripping from swords when Macbeth and his good buddy Banquo (Paddy Considine) meet four (no, not three) witches, who address him by his title Thane of Glamis, but also Thane of Cawdor. The last says "Thou shalt be king hereafter." Macbeth is skeptical because he is neither Thane of Cawdor nor king. But when he is met by a messenger from King Duncan (David Thewlis), who informs Macbeth that he has been rewarded with the title of Thane of Cawdor, the wheels start spinning in Macbeth's head.

When King Duncan surprises everybody by naming his son Malcolm as his heir apparent, Macbeth and his ruthlessly ambitious wife Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) elect to take matters into their own hands. Duncan obliges them by paying a visit to Macbeth's castle, where Macbeth murders Duncan in his bed and pins the blame on Duncan's bodyguards. Macbeth is anointed king, but many people are suspicious, including Banquo and also Macduff, the Thane of Fife (Sean Harris). Elizabeth Debicki appears as Lady Macduff.

Other cinematic versions of Macbeth include a 1948 movie by Orson Welles, a 1971 film by Roman Polański, and a 2021 version by Joel Coen. Bamburgh Castle on the north coast of England was used as Macbeth's castle in both the 1971 and 2015 films.


  • Adaptation Expansion: This movie includes a dialogue-free scene at the beginning where the Macbeths are burying a child. There is a scene in the play where Lady Macbeth says "I have given suck", which, combined with Macduff's later "He has no children!", does indicate that at some point in the past the Macbeths lost a child.
  • Adaptational Mundanity: Historical faithfulness was never a big focus of Shakespeare's, and most adaptations follow suit with varying aesthetics and supernatural dealings. This one stands out for a very down-to-earth approach where the magic events may just be hallucinations and a period-appropriate setting of grimy, dark 11th-century Scotland.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Lady Macbeth, originally a Scottish character, is now French in this film. Considering that there have been many French queen consorts in Scotland, this isn't too far off the mark, though Gruoch herself was not one of them.
  • Adapted Out: Donalbain, a basically pointless character from the play, does not appear. The drunk porter who pops up in the play after Duncan's murder to provide comic relief is also omitted.
  • Artistic License – History: In relation to Lady Macbeth's Adaptational Nationality, the first Scottish consort of French origin was Ermengarde de Beaumont, queen to William the Lion, great-grandson of Malcolm, with a possible forerunner, depending on if you view her as English or French, in Henry I of England's illegitimate daughter Sybilla of Normandy, queen to Malcolm's son Alexander I.
  • Audible Sharpness: Heard when Macbeth pulls out one of the guard's daggers in order to murder Duncan.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: A scene not found in the play has Macbeth being crowned in a church while all the nobles in attendance cry "Hail Macbeth!". Macduff joins in but his expression indicates that he already has doubts.
  • Bullet Time: There aren't any bullets in 11th century Scotland, but the opening battle scenes have a lot of slo-mo Bullet Time sequences where you can see swords slowly slicing through the air and individual droplets of blood flying.
  • Canon Foreigner: Adds two witches (a child and an infant), a child soldier who Macbeth gets attached to (and who dies during the battle against Macdonwald), and a child for the Macbeths (who died prior to the events of the movie).
  • Come to Gawk: Macduff threatens Macbeth with this, which is why Macbeth decides not to surrender even after finding out that Macduff wasn't born of a woman.
  • Creepy Child: The traditional three witches are accompanied by a fourth witch, a creepy-looking child. She doesn't have any lines.
  • Darker and Edgier: While Polanski's adaptation of Macbeth is likely unrivaled in terms of grim narrative, this one doesn't rank very far behind. The aesthetics in particular are the grimiest they've ever been, portraying a Scotland full of mud, dirt, blood and barely illuminated by flickering candlelight.
  • Death of a Child: The film opens with a prologue not found in the play where the Macbeths are burying a child. Then there's the deaths of the Macduff children, in this version burned at the stake along with their mother.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Not the traditional one at the end from the play, but at the beginning, when Macbeth (obviously traumatized from the violent battle) chucks the head of Macdonwald at Duncan's feet.
  • Decomposite Character: The Doctor and Gentlewoman who attend Lady Macbeth are present for the scene in which her death is announced, but are absent for the Out, Damned Spot! scene. She instead gives this speech to an apparition of her dead son.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Lady Macbeth clearly crosses this after witnessing Lady Macduff and her children being murdered.
  • Despair Speech: Macbeth's "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" speech, in this film given while he's actually cradling his wife's dead body, where he talks about how life is pointless and meaningless and then you die.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation:
    • The movie changes the fate of Lady Macduff and her children. Instead of being slaughtered in their home, they are ambushed on the road and brought to Macbeth's castle, where he publicly burns them at the stake.
    • And the film again does not feature Macbeth being beheaded, but rather fatally stabbed and left to bleed out on the battlefield by Malcolm and Macduff.
  • Downer Ending: Foreshadows a future conflict by ending with Fleance coming across Macbeth's body on the battlefield and taking his sword, intercut with the newly-crowned Malcolm looking unsettled.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: A lot of scenes taking place at night and by candlelight result in this. Examples include Lady Macbeth's "unsex me here" speech where she basically prays for the strength to be evil, and Duncan's murder itself when Macbeth creeps into his tent.
  • Four Is Death: There are four witches, one of whom is a child, and here they appear right before the death of Lady Macbeth and the end of the final battle.
  • Get It Over With: Twice, forming Book Ends. In the opening battle scene the Thane of Cawdor sees Macbeth on the battlefield and sort of just gives up and allows Macbeth to whack off his head. At the end, after Macduff drops the "from my mother's womb untimely ripp'd" bomb, Macbeth goes right up to him and embraces him while delivering the "Lay on, Macduff" line, allowing Macduff to finish him off with a few gut-stabs.
  • Headbutt of Love: If one didn't already know from the play that Macduff's son is a goner, the headbutt of love that Macduff gives the boy before seeing him and his mom off would remove all doubt.
  • The Hecate Sisters: How the three witches are portrayed: a young woman, a mature woman, and an old crone.
  • Inner Monologue: Typically used for Shakespeare's soliloquies when the speaker is in a crowd, as when Macbeth hears Duncan's announcement that Malcolm will be Prince of Cumberland. Soliloquies where the speaker is alone are typically spoken out loud.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: The dialogue right after "screw your courage to the sticking place", where the Macbeths plot the details of the murder, is delivered while they are having sex. Macbeth's "I am settled", delivered in this instance right after his climax, gets a new meaning.
  • The Insomniac: The original play's scene of Macbeth stating he shall "sleep no more" gets played up here. Contrast is made between characters sleeping while Macbeth is wide awake as he simply stops sleeping altogether past that point. Accordingly, as the film progresses the effects of insomnia become increasingly more noticeable: his skin grows pale, the eyebags and dark circles around his eyes become worse, he gets shakes of restlessness etc. This also adds more touches of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane to Macbeth's supernatural encounters (as hallucinations are a common effect of not sleeping for extended periods of time).
  • Kick the Dog: Malcolm walks in on the aftermath of his father's murder, and Macbeth taunts him—which is why the young prince flees in this version.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Lady Macduff is clad in white with blonde hair (light feminine) while Lady Macbeth is dark haired and wearing darker colours (dark feminine).
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The film avoids overt supernatural displays and plays up the unhinged mental state of the characters who interact with the supernatural (Macbeth and Lady Macbeth), casting some doubt on proceedings. Macbeth himself seems to be experiencing some pretty severe PTSD from the first scene we meet him and spends the rest of the film wide awake while Lady Macbeth doesn't fare much better after Duncan's death.
  • Ominous Fog: As with the play ("hover through the fog and filthy air"), many scenes are foggy and ominous, like the opening scene where Macbeth and his army attacks the rebels on an eerie, fogbound plain, or the scene where Macbeth seeks out the witches for a second round of prophecy.
  • Prophecy Twist: The film does its own twist regarding Birnam Wood, where instead of Malcolm and Macduff's army cutting down trees and carrying them to hide their numbers, they simply burn it, and the embers are blown toward Dunsinane.
  • Scenery Porn: The film takes advantage of filming in Scotland, with many shots spent just highlighting the gorgeous landscape.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: In this take on the character Macbeth is obviously traumatized by the battles he's fought. In the "Is this a dagger I see before me" monologue, the dagger is held by the ghost of a boy soldier that Macbeth knew, who died in the opening battle scene.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Cuts everything related to comic relief, including the porter at the gate and large chunks of the Witches' dialogue.
  • This Means Warpaint: Macbeth and his men paint blue stripes on their faces in the opening scene, before they charge against the rebel forces of Macdonwald. Macbeth himself paints stripes on the face of a teenaged boy who is subsequently killed.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Towards the end it gets fuzzy on what supernatural events are happening (if any) and what are just hallucinations from the traumatized characters.
  • The Voiceless: The three witches are given a child companion. Naturally, she never speaks.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Macduff upchucks outside of Duncan's tent after going inside and discovering that the king has been murdered.