The Tragedy of Macbeth
A tale of treachery, vengeance and a quest for power that we all know too well, Shakespeare’s Macbeth gets the A24 treatment. Why do audiences need yet another adaption of the throat-slitting tragedy, one may ask? This latest version, directed by Joel Cohen, makes that abundantly clear.
The tale itself sticks loyally to the original text from 400 years ago, following the power-hungry Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth (Denzel Washington), as he rises to sovereignty via tyrannical means, empowered by his wife Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand), who pushes him into committing regicide. Slicing through his enemies in the shadows in the hopes of making Scotland his own (having heard a prophecy from three sisters – Kathryn Hunter as all three), it is not long before Macbeth’s former allies begin to rally against him and a crazy thirst for power leads to insanity.
Washington is no stranger to Shakespeare, having already appeared on-screen as Don Pedro in Much Ado about Nothing and, notably, as Julius Caesar on-stage, and his experience in the field certainly bears fruit this time around. Once again, the actor will leave viewers speechless, displaying once more why he is considered to be one of the greatest actors of all time. He graces every inch of every scene with a prowess and evident understanding of the complexity of the dialogue – an element so critically important where literature of this kind is concerned.
Frances McDormand is a powerhouse, too, as the tormented and unhinged Lady Macbeth – a role she was seemingly born to play. The supporting cast also make the tricky dialogue more palatable, with Cory Hawkins standing out in particular as the vengeful Macduff (a role that could not be more polarised from his performance in In the Heights). The language remains pure Shakespeare, which can be alienating to some, but in this adaptation the entire cast have a firm grasp on the rhythm of the iambic pentameter, which resonates mightily with the viewer.
The text itself is relatively close to the full original, just shorter for obvious reasons, with the film having a runtime of 105 minutes; and, despite some minor escalations in the development of character personalities, the five-act structure still remains in place. But it is the set design and visual production that really blow this adaption out of the water, with a monochrome black-and-white cinematographic lens chilling all that takes place on-screen and creating a raw and visceral impact. The use of blocked, minimal staging and breathtaking lighting places an emphasis on the artistic vision of both Cohen and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, with a simple, yet expansive approach to all visual elements that absorbs the viewer in an almost surreal universe. Add the soundscape of a recurring pounding drum and a booming score from Carter Burwell that shakes one to the very core, and the result is an interpretation of an oft redone Shakespearean classic that contains all of the grit that it needs, visually matching the coarseness of its subject. For Joel Cohen, The Tragedy of Macbeth is a rare solo effort that is truly worth its weight in gold.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is released in select cinemas on 17th October 2021.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for The Tragedy of Macbeth here: