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.
Over a 30+ year career, Joel & Ethan Coen have made 18 feature films together, garnering countless award nominations and critical acclaim. For the first time, a film has been made by just one Coen brother, in this case Joel as Ethan has stepped away from making films (whether temporarily or not, time will tell). For his first film without his brother, he’s decided to take on one of the classics in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, a play that has been adapted for screen on multiple occasions, most recently by Justin Kurzel in 2015. No pressure then!
In the iconic central roles, we have Denzel Washington as Macbeth and Frances McDormand playing the role of Lady Macbeth, with the remainder of the cast filled with a plethora of strong performers, both well known (Brendan Gleeson as King Duncan) and lesser known (Kathryn Hunter as the witches). Coen has taken a minimalist approach to this adaptation, stripping the story right down to its basics, with a lot of the heavy lifting done by the production design that gives the setting a sparse, unsparing feel. The emphasis is on the visuals and the sound design, with the adaptation almost entirely faithful to Shakespeare’s text with limited tinkering on Coen’s part.
The performances are good but it’s the filmmaking craft and the imagery that makes this version of the story standout, highlights including the march through Birnam Wood as Malcolm’s soldiers head towards Dunsinane, and the final showdown on the bridge. It is entirely filmed on soundstages, in black and white, and this provides a basis for Coen (alongside cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel) to manipulate the shadows and lighting to enhance the power of a story that almost all audience members will be familiar with.
‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ is an impressive first feature for Joel Coen without his brother, and it potentially signifies a slight change in the type of work we can expect as he ploughs his own furrow.
Directed By: Joel Coen
Starring: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Harry Melling, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Kathryn Hunter, Moses Ingram, Ralph Ineson, Stephen Root and Sean Patrick Thomas