There have been many cinematic interpretations of Macbeth over the years. From Orson Welles & Roman Polanski (Macbeth) to Akira Kurosawa (Throne of Blood) and most recently ,up until now, Justin Kurzel’s 2015 Michael Fassbender led adaptation. Joel Coen ops for a heavily psychological and claustrophobic affair, that bleeds gothic horror imagery and crafts a discomforting atmosphere. Led by a thunderous performance from Denzel Washington, making The Tragedy of Macbeth a magnetic watch, despite its simultaneously slightly rushed and, at times, overly slow burn approach.
Written by Jack Ransom
Joel Coen’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s famous play. The Tragedy of Macbeth sees a Scottish lord (Denzel Washington) become convinced by a trio of witches (Kathryn Hunter) that he will become the next King of Scotland, and his ambitious wife (Frances McDormand) supports him in his plans of seizing power.
Moving along at an intense and gruelling pace for the majority of its runtime, could make The Tragedy of Macbeth a tough watch for some. However it works incredibly well for this adaptation. Macbeth’s drastic increasingly present paranoia and insanity is captured perfectly here, there is a real sense of unease and unpredictability to this prickly, blood fuelled journey to the throne. The film is committed to the original dialogue of the era (and play), which does make the supporting characters tricky to become genuinely invested in. However the witches are an absolutely chilling triumph and absolutely hypnotise when they appear on screen.
The 4:3 aspect ratio works incredibly effectively at condensing a sense of grandeur into an intimate and focused affair. The monochrome colour palette helps craft some utterly gorgeous shots and the German expressionism inspired set design is some of my favourite visual iconography that I have seen on the big screen in a long time. The utilisation of fog, the frequent close ups and distorted angles keep the film constantly visually interesting and makes the film feel like an artefact of its time setting. The sound design also is worth complimenting. Thunderous booms of blood drips, screeching crows and a leering score all really help immerse you in this tale.
Denzel Washington commands the screen as Macbeth. From confident and composed, to maniacal screaming, wide-eyed confusion and blood drunk desperation. Contrasting this is Frances McDormand’s subtle, brooding Lady Macbeth, who glides around in her husband’s shadow as she attempts to weave her own motivations into Macbeth’s plans. Kathryn Hunter’s croaky, spider-like and incredibly creepy portrayal of the witches three, absolutely provides a layer of genuine horror to the proceedings. The supporting cast are all strong here, though it is tricky to be genuinely invested in them, which is largely due to the dialogue and the slightly rushed structure towards the third act.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is a spine tingling, morbidly beautiful and excellently performed adaptation of the literary classic. Washington gives one of my favourite performances I have seen of his filmography, Kathryn Hunter cements herself as one of the best on screen witch
portrayals and the stylistic choices are phenomenal. However the lack of genuine investment, incredibly slow sections and the choppy structuring towards the end are all apparent. But a big screen viewing experience is an absolute must.