REVIEW: ‘The Tragedy Of Macbeth’ Is A Visually Striking & Well-Cast Take On The Scottish Play

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The Tragedy of Macbeth - But Why Tho

The Tragedy of Macbeth is an Apple Original Film written and directed by Joel Coen, and produced by A24. It is based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare. Macbeth (Denzel Washington) is approached by a trio of witches known as the Weird Sisters (Kathryn Hunter) after leading Scotland’s army to victory over the Thane of Cawdor. The Sisters tell Macbeth that he will be the new Thane of Cawdor and one day, the King of Scotland Spurred on by his wife Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand), Macbeth murders King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson) and ascends to the throne, but this only leads to a spiral of murder and paranoia.

Shakespeare’s plays have always been ripe for adaptation and/or reinterpretation. From West Side Story to Akira Kurosawa‘s Throne of Blood, the Bard’s work has attracted multiple filmmakers and stars over the years. For Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth marks a first in his career—that is, the first time he’s directed a film without his brother Ethan. Coen hits the high notes of Macbeth in a breezy runtime that skirts under two hours, often choosing to let his camera favor actors as they deliver monologues, or the scenery, which is stark in both design and how it’s captured on film.

Coen is also helped by an impressive production team that helps bring his vision to life. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel shot the entire film in black and white, giving the film a simple yet striking look that helps draw attention to details such as the graying hairs in Macbeth’s beard and the texture of the armor that soldiers wear. Editors Lucian Johnston & Reginald Jaynes get extremely creative with their editing; in one scene, fog rolls across the screen, transitioning from night to day in the space of seconds. Another sequence pulls in on the sun, which then transforms into a spotlight that focuses on Lady Macbeth. And production designer Stefan Dechant creates sets that are sparse and roomy, especially Macbeth’s castle. A scene in the finale takes place in the throne room, with leaves blowing around Macbeth as he slumps on his throne. Supervising sound editor Skip Livesay creates an unsettling atmosphere as drops of blood and water crash onto the floor with a thunderous sound. Heavy drumbeats feel more like the pounding of a heart. Combined with Carter Burwell’s score, this has an unsettling effect that fits perfectly with the story, especially when Macbeth grows more tyrannical in his ambition.

However, it’s the performances that are the major draw of the film, including Washington and McDormand. Washington is no stranger to Shakespeare, having starred in Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing and a production of Richard III in the 90s. Here, he digs deep into Macbeth’s state of mind as the Thane transforms from an ambition-driven warrior to a cruel tyrant. As Macbeth becomes wracked by paranoia, Washington’s voice grows more strained and fearful; his deliverance of the infamous “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” soliloquy is more restrained, yet still carries the necessary force. McDormand is also afforded the same sense of interiority as Lady Macbeth. Though her actions are what eventually drive the Macbeths to ruin, a tender scene early in the film shows that she is deeply in love with Macbeth and is determined to see him succeed.

The supporting cast is also on their A-game, especially Hunter as the Weird Sisters. She contorts her body into shocking positions and speaks in a low croak of a voice; combined with camera trickery that makes one actor appear as three, the supernatural elements of the play are appropriately haunting. Corey Hawkins turns in a fiery performance as Macbeth’s rival Macduff, and Gleeson makes the most of his screentime as Duncan. The same goes for Harry Melling as Prince Malcolm. Other standouts include Stephen Root as the porter of Castle Macbeth in a rather humorous scene, and Bertie Carvel as Macbeth’s comrade Banquo.

Visually striking and impeccably cast, The Tragedy of Macbeth is one of the best Shakespeare adaptations to be put to the screen. I highly recommend that viewers of all stripes give it a watch, especially if they’re fans of Shakespeare’s work. Very rarely do you find this perfect of a marriage between actor and material.

The Tragedy Of Macbeth is currently playing in select theaters and will be available to stream on Apple TV+ on January 14.


The Tragedy of Macbeth
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

Visually striking and impeccably cast, The Tragedy of Macbeth is one of the best Shakespeare adaptations to be put to the screen. I highly recommend that viewers of all stripes give it a watch, especially if they’re fans of Shakespeare’s work. Very rarely do you find this perfect of a marriage between actor and material.

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