Macbeth is a theatrical tragedy by William Shakespeare, which has been adapted into a film about thirty times so far, and we received the last adaptation of Macbeth in 2015. The Tragedy of Macbeth is a new film adaptation written and directed by Joel Cohen, older than the Cohen brothers. After almost forty years of working together, this is the first film directed by one of the brothers without the participation of a long one. The film premiered at the New York Film Festival in September, with limited cinema distribution in charge of A24, and arrived on Apple TV + streaming servers on January 14, 2022 (United States).
The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) movie plot and review
Macbeth (Denzel Washington) is a Scottish knight and a celebrated military leader of King Duncan who, with the help of General Banquet, defeated enemy forces. After the battle, they come across three witches who, among other things, announce that Macbeth will become the King of Scotland. With the first half of the prophecy fulfilled, Macbeth, influenced by ambition and his wife Lady Macbeth (Francis McDormand), decides to take matters into his own hands and come to the throne by force. The rest of the film follows the inevitable consequences of their endeavor.
The combination of resonant themes, haunting images and unforgettable characters makes Macbeth a story that successfully withstands the test of time, but with each new adaptation, the question arises as to what we will really get with it. This adaptation had an impressive premise because it brought together Joel Cohen, Denzel Washington and Francis McDormand, and as far as I’m concerned, that was more than enough to watch this film at the first opportunity. In the impressive, colorful filmography of the Cohen brothers, the screenplay of a classic story seems like an “unusually ordinary” endeavor, so I was really interested in Joel’s vision of filming this work.
Many stage productions and film adaptations try to give some new life to stories or to re-imagine performances in different contexts. In this Shakespearean accessible (in terms of plot and short length of text) and timeless (in terms of topics) story, we follow the world of magic, betrayal, destiny and murder. The goals, successes, and lives of the characters exist at one point and disappear the next, but the fog and atmosphere of utter hopelessness remain. The Tragedy of Macbeth reminds us that in this tragedy, words and ideas, even after 400 years, there is still a lot of life.
In terms of aesthetics, this screenplay is very reminiscent of Orson Welles’ 1948 film, as both films feature black-and-white photography and sharp lines / angles that give the impression of expressionism. Everything we see is a bit dark and gloomy, and different spaces and rooms have a lot of emptiness. Cohen deftly ensures that the light and the camera treat the actors with the necessary visibility and clarity of the stage performance, and thus finds a dreamy environment between film and theater – the film acts as a spooky dream enriched with Shakespeare’s brilliant words.
As expected for a Shakespearean production, the strength of the central drama lies in quality acting performances. Washington is recognizable with manic, haunting looks and sudden outbursts, and very convincingly represents the transformation of Macbeth from a withdrawn and whispering man who hesitates to even consider murder, to a king who believes that a series of escalating murders is the only way to maintain his rule. I will mention a great scene with a phantom knife in which Macbeth’s speech was initially defined by a quiet voice, while a modest man is gradually overwhelmed by thoughts of power from which he is separated only by the blow of a knife.
McDormand is equally up to the task of Lady Macbeth, whose initial control over the mind and will of her surplus becomes an irreversible path to all-encompassing guilt. However, it can be said that the show was stolen by theater veteran Catherine Hunter, who played all three witches and one old man with a spooky, creepy undertone. The opening scenes show her physically distorted figure uttering disturbing words, thus laying a high foundation for the rest of the film.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is a new artistic adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy that reduces the classic story of ambition, madness and murder to narrative foundations with a striking visual minimalist presentation and spectacular acting performances. Final rating: 9/10
The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) movie cast and characters
- Denzel Washington as Lord Macbeth
- Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth
- Alex Hassell as Ross
- Corey Hawkins as Macduff
- Bertie Carvel as Banquo
- Harry Melling as Malcolm, Duncan’s older son
- Brendan Gleeson as King Duncan
- Kathryn Hunter as the Witches / Old Man
- Miles Anderson as Lennox
- Matt Helm as Donalbain, Duncan’s younger son
- Moses Ingram as Lady Macduff
- Ethan Hutchinson as Macduff’s son
- Scott Subiono and Brian Thompson as the Murderers
- Lucas Barker as Fleance, Banquo’s son
- Stephen Root as the Porter
- Robert Gilbert as Angus
- James Udom as Seyton
- Richard Short as Siward, English general
- Sean Patrick Thomas as Monteith
- Ralph Ineson as the Captain
- Jefferson Mays as the Doctor
- Susan Berger as Lady in Waiting
- Nancy Daly as Nurse
- Wayne T. Carr as Lady Macduff’s murderer
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