Cannes 2015: Michael Fassbender's performance as Macbeth shaped by British troops' experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan

A new movie adaptation is premiering at the film festival

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The Independent Culture

The experience of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan helped to shape Michael Fassbender’s performance as Macbeth in a new movie version of Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy that has premiered at the Cannes film festival.

The controversial adaptation of the play by the Australian director Justin Kurzel suggests the Scottish warlord was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that causes him to have visions of witches, hear their prophecies and embark on a murderous quest for power.

“We know soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan ... have these hallucinations,” Fassbender told journalists in Cannes. “That made so much sense to me. From the beginning [Macbeth] sees the witches and [exhibits] this sort of unhinged behaviour.”

Macbeth, which was shot on the Isle of Skye, is one of the contenders for the Palme d’Or – the 12-day festival’s top prize – which is set to will be announced.


Kurzel, who directed the acclaimed 2011 feature Snowtown, suggested the PTSD theory to Fassbender. It is one of several controversial aspects of the new film that also suggests that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth had sired children who subsequently died.

Lady Macbeth, played by the French actress Marion Cotillard, is depicted as a grieving mother who is mourning the death of at least one child. Based on a much debated line in Shakespeare’s text, it is posited as the event that sets her on the path to madness.

Fassbender believes Shakespeare’s tale is less about the high cost of ambition – the usual interpretation of the play – and more about loss. “We know that Lady Macbeth has lost one child, probably many more, and all these things come together,” he said. “I think this story is about loss, the loss of a relationship between a couple the loss of a child and of their sanity. That’s how I see it.”

Controversially, Kurzel and his team of three screenwriters have also ditched the bulk of Shakespeare’s text. Additionally, much of the film has been made in the style of a western.

Fassbender said the culling of several characters along with many of Shakespeare’s famous lines was necessary to make the play cinematic.

“The classic thing is, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” he said. “To try to mess with Shakespeare’s writing, which is genius – we wanted to respect that. It’s about filleting the best you can, to make it something that stands within the vision that Justin has and to make it a cinematic experience as opposed to a theatrical one.”