Best Actress of the Decade, Entry No. 14: Marion Cotillard

To celebrate the last decade 2010-2019 we are counting down the best actresses and discussing some of their most notable and memorable performances of the last decade. With the help of Film Twitter, the ITOL team have selected 30 actresses. Entry No. 14 is Marion Cotillard, and writer Joan Amenn discusses Cotillard’s performance in “Macbeth”.

By Joan Amenn

Some actors make a career of playing essentially the same role over and over again. Some just play themselves in different dramatic scenarios. Very few have the courage to challenge themselves with a wide diversity of characterizations. Such is the phenomenal talent of Marion Cotillard that she has portrayed a beloved historical figure, a woman lost in her own mind in a large budget ensemble action drama and a Shakespearean queen and given a riveting performance each time. She has played other roles but is probably best remembered for her Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf in “La Vie En Rose” (2007). Her Piaf is both a steely survivor from the street and fragile lost child who never had a real home.

She brings that same delicacy and inner strength to Lady Macbeth opposite Michael Fassbender in “Macbeth” (2015), surely the most intimate and expressive version of the play ever filmed. “Delicate” is not a word typically used to describe the role but Cotillard and Fassbender are revealed to be parents grieving the loss of their child in the film’s opening.

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Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender in Macbeth (2015) © 2015 – StudioCanal

Such is the phenomenal talent of Marion Cotillard that she has portrayed a beloved historical figure, a woman lost in her own mind in a large budget ensemble action drama and a Shakespearean queen and given a riveting performance each time.

Although this was not depicted in the play, Lady Macbeth tells her husband she has nursed a child in Act I, Scene VIII even though no other reference is made of a baby having been born to them. Bereft of her traditional role of motherhood, Lady Macbeth grasps at the chance of becoming the power behind her husband as she reads his letter foretelling his rise to being crowned king. She eagerly embraces being “un-sexed,” the better to prod Macbeth on to greater ambition.

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However, Cotillard’s face shows her wistful longing as she is surrounded by singing children serenading King Duncan (David Thewlis) even as she is resolved to urge Macbeth on to murder. As her husband commits atrocities of increasing horror, Lady Macbeth’s sanity deteriorates until it reaches the breaking point when he burns Macduff’s (Sean Harris) family at the stake.

Cotillard is utterly fearless in taking risks for the camera, whether it is shaving her eyebrows off for Piaf or nearly sinking into a bog while on location for “Macbeth.”

In the play, Macbeth orders men loyal to him to commit this crime but the film shows him throwing the torch in as his Lady looks on, devastated. Cotillard’s mad scene is heartbreaking but strangely she is even more moving when Fassbender cradles her dead body in his arms and tenderly tells her “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…” The scene is traditionally a soliloquy but Cotillard and Fassbender make it seem like they are speaking the famous lines to one another even though she is silent. This is the most extraordinary part of an already outstanding adaptation.

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Marion Cotillard in Macbeth (2015) © 2015 – StudioCanal

Cotillard is utterly fearless in taking risks for the camera, whether it is shaving her eyebrows off for Piaf or nearly sinking into a bog while on location for “Macbeth.” Her passion for acting is evident in all the details she brings to a role. She creates intriguing takes on complex women and for that, we the audience love her.

What’s your favourite performance by Marion Cotillard? Let us know in the comments below.

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