The Tragedy of Macbeth

Verdict: Joel Coen's take on the Scottish play has an excellent cast and an intriguing visual style but the language barrier makes it tricky to engage with

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand take the lead in Joel Coen’s movie adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy.

Denzel Washington has been receiving recognition this awards season for his portrayal of Macbeth and it’s easy to see why.

Directed by Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth tells the story of a Scottish lord named Macbeth (Washington) who is told by a group of witches that he’ll become the next King of Scotland. He brings this news to his wife, Lady Macbeth (McDormand), and together they devise a murderous scheme to make the prophecy come true.

How you get on with this adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play will really depend on if you enjoy reading or watching the famed playwright’s work for leisure or if it feels like hard work.

The language is tricky and it is difficult to understand what is being said most of the time so it becomes almost impossible to engage with or get into it.

The black-and-white visuals make it even harder to find something to cling to. The film was shot completely on sound stages and the sets are very stark and minimalist so it’s not always exciting to look at. However, occasionally, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel captures a very cool shot and plays with light to create impressive effects.

Coen, directing his first movie without his brother Ethan, hasn’t just stripped the film back visually, but narratively too. The film is only an hour and 45 minutes so he has reduced the meaty text down to its bare essentials.

Washington’s awards season recognition is well deserved. His years of experience with Shakespeare means he’s a seasoned pro and an expert at grappling with the challenging language. He makes it seem so simple and effortless! His performance really stands out as the ruler becomes increasingly paranoid and mad.

In comparison, McDormand didn’t make it seem quite so easy but she is still excellent when Lady Macbeth is overcome by guilt. However, the chemistry between them was virtually non-existent and they didn’t feel like husband and wife.

The biggest revelation was stage actress Kathryn Hunter, who plays all three of the weird sisters. The way she contorts her body is discomforting and her rasping voice felt creepy and sinister, making her the perfect casting for that role.

There’s no denying The Tragedy of Macbeth is a well-made film with an excellent cast and an intriguing visual style. But will you enjoy it? That really depends on whether you consider watching Shakespeare an appealing activity or more like school homework.

On Apple TV+ from Friday 14th January.

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