The Tragedy of Macbeth

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The Tragedy of Macbeth

A Scottish lord becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland, and his ambitious wife supports him in his plans of seizing power.

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Joel Coen goes solo with this stylized adaptation of the play by William Shakespeare with . Following a victory on the battlefield, Thane of Glamis Macbeth () and his cohort Banquo () are greeted by Three Witches (), who tell Macbeth that he will be the next King of Scotland. After learning of his prophecy, Lady Macbeth () encourages her husband to kill King Duncan () and take the crown for himself. However, Macbeth becomes a tyrant in his reign, leading to a rebellion by Duncan's son Malcolm () and Thane of Fife Macduff ().


With his brother Ethan taking a sabbatical from filmmaking, Joel Coen goes solo for the first time, directing a new adaptation of William Shakespeare's “Macbeth,” using the same extended title as Roman Polanski's 1971 adaptation The Tragedy of Macbeth, which happens to be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The film also arrives a mere six years after the previous 2015 adaptation of Macbeth starring and .

One element that makes Joel Coen's The Tragedy of Macbeth stand out from adaptation is that it was shot in black and white with a 4:3 Academy ratio entirely on soundstages, giving the film an incredibly stylized appearance that comes off as a mix between German Expressionism and the films of Ingmar Bergman, particularly 1957's The Seventh Seal, with the trio of witches, all played by veteran Shakespearean actor and contortionist Kathryn Hunter, taking a similar appearance to Death from Bergman's film.

In addition, The Tragedy of Macbeth features some very diverse casting, particularly in how the protagonist Macbeth and antagonist Macduff are played by black actors in Denzel Washington and Corey Hawkins respectively. Frances McDormand, who is also a producer on the film, makes her 9th collaboration with husband Joel Coen as the scheming Lady Macbeth, who leads her husband down a dark path.

Even for a veteran like Joel Coen, it can be incredibly difficult to adapt William Shakespeare's plays to the big screen, since the prose of the dialogue can come off sounding corny for those not well-versed in the delivery. As such, apart from Kathryn Hunter, who is undoubtedly the best Shakespearean actor in the cast, The Tragedy of Macbeth leaves a lot to be desired, with a very grizzled looking Denzel Washington being the worse offender when to comes to line delivery, with Frances McDormand not being too far behind.

The Tragedy of Macbeth is ultimately very much a case of being style-over-substance, since even those the meticulously shot scenes are beautiful to watch visually, the film as a whole ends up being very drab and soulless Shakespearan adaptation. In fact, this film has made me rethink my lukewarm reception to the 2015 Macbeth, which in retrospect is the much superior adaptation.

The Tragedy of Macbeth is now playing in select cinemas and will be available for streaming on Apple TV+ on January 14, 2022.

Trailer for The Tragedy of Macbeth

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.