From its prominence in the highly strung superstitions of the stage to its (slightly) adapted inclusion in the cultural phenomenon that is Game of Thrones (think Stannis Baratheon), this tale of a bloody and ill fated Scottish coup d'etat is so common that it has become almost cultural shorthand, a cornerstone, a collective reference point.
To get a real sense of how ubiquitous this play has become, take a moment to consider the amount of dialogue that has been given a second life as popular sayings and phrases. With all of that in mind, and without delving any further into the vast amount of adaptations, analogies, parallels, references and homages that this play, let alone the rest of the bard's works have inspired, my initial reaction to the latest iteration of the Scottish play was something approaching a shrug. What can they possibly do now that hasn't been done a dozen times already?
The answer is nothing really except doing it exceptionally, possibly uniquely, well. This is film at its most visceral and affecting, while retaining an irresistible and cerebral subtlety. From its mournful opening shot to its hauntingly beautiful finale, Justin Kurzel's 2015 incarnation is bruising and brutal and yet oddly bloodless, capturing a mood of illusory dread rather than violent excess - although it is bloody enough to ensure some uncomfortable viewing.
The standout scene is probably the opening battlefield before Macbeth's fateful encounter with the weird sisters and it is a testament to the quality of this creative team and the end product that the battle is one of the few scenes that can claim to be a true creation; Macbeth's military exploits are only implied in Shakespeare's original. This then, a work of imagination on the part of the producers, is the highpoint of the film, with both Michael Fassbender (Macbeth) and the exceptional Paddy Considine (Banquo) wordlessly exuding a mood of dread and rage.
While the lack of dialogue is almost certainly out of deference to the bard, with no attempt to add to the script, it also infuses both men with an animalism that serves an excellent counterpoint to the eloquence that is the hallmark of Shakespeare's work. It lends the whole piece a disquieting sense of realism to see Banquo and Macbeth as wordless, animalistic executioners before hearing them converse with unforced verbosity. That the film's standout scene is so early does not detract from the rest of the movie, more that the rest of the film is a continuation, or an expansion of its initial set piece.
Following on from the action and bloodlust of the opening, the film focuses on emphasizing its slightly hallucinatory tone, everything from the editing and cinematography to the soundtrack - all brooding string swells and prophetic percussion - is geared towards that peculiarly violent lunacy that has made this story so infamous, to wonderful effect.
Assuming it is unnecessary to delve into the plot of such a familiar story it is instead useful to press the strength of this film, its unflinching faithfulness to the source material, the uniform excellence of the cast - special mention to Marion Cotillard's wide eyed, hissing, Lady Macbeth and the lasting, unshakeable impression it leaves after a single viewing.
It would be remiss not to mention that three other notable screen adaptations of Macbeth have been helmed by Roman Polanski, Akira Kurosawa and Orson Welles. It is fair to say then, considering the weight of the source and the illustrious company that this film keeps, that the cast and crew have here operated at the very edge of creative ambition and that the lexicon of contemporary cinema is surely richer for their success.
Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard star in Macbeth, now showing at FACT.