Hail a shocking new tale of Macbeth: Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are a powerful couple in new adaptation of Shakespeare's bloody tragedyMichael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard stand respectfully still as the Thane of Cawdor is anointed king.
Three times the assembled bishops, priests noblemen and soldiers cry out: ‘Hail, Macbeth!’
Fassbender refers to his screen wife as ‘Lady M’, and together, they make as powerful a screen couple as I’ve observed in many years.
As I sit with director Justin Kurzel and watch the scene he’s shooting at Ely Cathedral (standing in for Dunsinane Castle), the camera picks out Fassbender’s eyes, and they give a hint of Macbeth’s inner torment.
‘He’s suffering from post traumatic stress disorder,’ Fassbender told me later. ‘It makes total sense, when you think about it. Justin set the seed of the idea in my head.
‘This trauma is something we know about. In World War I they called it battle fatigue, and it was probably more horrific in Macbeth’s days, when they were killing with their bare hands, and driving a blade through bodies.
'He’s having these hallucinations, and he needs to return to the violence to find some sort of clarity, or peace.’
Macbeth and his Lady M had also, the actor and director point out, lost a child.
‘He’d been away fighting and when he returns, we see it’s a relationship that’s broken down. They lost a child, and there wasn’t time for them to grieve because he’s been away campaigning.’
However, the couple do reconnect. ‘Lady M is desperate for that reconnection, and briefly they do. And, of course, the doorway has been opened to darkness and to violence,’ Fassbender said.
After Duncan is murdered, Lady M hopes that this ‘fantastical deed, this terrible deed, this extraordinary deed of killing a king will be something that will bond them together’.
But once the blood is spilled, it leads to more and more killings.
‘He’s wary of doing it,’ Fassbender said, ‘but Lady M bolsters him, and tells him to garner his strength.’
The actor, last seen playing a brutal plantation owner in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, will be back on screen next month as Magneto in the next X-Men movie: Days Of Future Past.
Interestingly, his X-Men co-star James McAvoy played Macbeth in the West End last year — and gave Fassbender some literature and advice on playing the Thane.
So, clearly, this is not just any old Macbeth. For starters, the key producers — See-Saw Films — were behind Oscar-winning The King’s Speech.
Macbeth and King’s Speech producer Iain Canning noted that they also filmed King George VI’s coronation scenes at Ely, which in that case doubled for Westminster Abbey (though, on the day I visited, the light shining through the stained glass windows was more stunning than anything I’d ever noticed at Westminster).
Also, the hiring of Kurzel was crucial. He and his creative team travelled extensively around the Highlands to find locations that would be as authentic as possible. The Australian-born film-maker wanted a rugged-looking movie.
The soldiers’ faces are painted the colours of their clans and designers created special weaves for kilts.
Kurzel and Canning were adamant about not moving the story to a modern setting. ‘The story of Macbeth is eternally pertinent,’ Canning insisted.
The Bard’s verse remains, too, though it has been edited. ‘There’s a vibrancy and intelligence to the script,’ Fassbender observed.
He explained that the cast speak with Scottish accents — all apart from Lady M, the Oscar-winning French actress Ms Cotillard. ‘We felt it would be unreasonable for her to put on a Scottish accent. It would not be unreasonable to presume that her character spent time in the French court.’
I asked how he was approaching the psychology of Macbeth. How evil was he? ‘I always have a problem with that word,’ Fassbender said sharply. ‘It never gives me any information, or helps me in any way. I like to find a character’s motivation. I don’t think Macbeth is evil. I think he’s damaged.
‘When we meet him, he’s a man who’s as good as his circumstances will allow. He serves his king loyally and looks after his soldiers.’
And what about Edwin Epps, his character in 12 Years? Surely he was evil? ‘You put it down to insecurity, and fears — unless of course you’re dealing with a total sociopath.
‘Evil is a cloudy word, and something that’s not going to inform me to play the character in any other way than pantomime.’
Audiences will be able to judge for themselves when StudioCanal releases Macbeth in the UK early in 2015.
Jeremy Saulnier’s film Blue Ruin, being shown at the Sundance London Film and Music Festival on April 25 and 27, at the 02 Centre, stars Macon Blair as a man who has been living in his tip of a car.
We soon find out why, but I won’t give anything away, apart from to say that there is blood; and people die.
Saulnier and Blair are old buddies and had been looking for a movie to launch Saulnier as a director. They had few funds, so it was made without frills. Homes and cars were borrowed.
Saulnier said he wanted the film to feature a car, because his father loved fixing up old vehicles.
‘We beat up that old car, but once we finished filming we put it back together again, almost like new,’ he said.