The Tragedy of Macbeth Review

In terms of film adaptations of Shakespeare plays, there is an interesting history of adaptations of Macbeth. There have been a few notable ones, such as the 2015 version with Michael Fassbender which I saw as part of the 2015 LAMB meet-up and I think that the gold standard of Macbeth adaptations is still, and probably always will be Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. That said, I was excited to see what Joel Coen would do with Macbeth, especially with the assembled cast and, I think that this is a worthy adaptation of the play.

I won’t really go into the details of the plot since Macbeth is such a well known story, it’s the differences and changes that Coen makes to the story and the nature of the adaptation that makes it stand out. This version of Macbeth has a more paired down and theatrical style compared to the more bombastic nature of something like the 2015 version, which works well in creating a suitable tone for the film. There are also interesting choices made with the visuals throughout the film, such as the use of black and white and 4:3 cinematography, giving the film a pretty claustrophobic feel, which also works to emphasise the horror in the story. The use of soundstages meanwhile helps to give the film an unearthly quality, making this a bit more surreal in terms of adapting Macbeth. It is clear that Throne of Blood was an influence on Joel Coen throughout the making of the film and, whilst I don’t think this version hits the highs of Throne of Blood, it is still compelling.

There are interesting changes to the way characters are presented, such as how Banquo’s ghost is presented and the addition of the character Ross, who plays an interesting role throughout the film, being an omnipresent figure that makes for a fascinating addition to the story, feeling like a more supernatural presence throughout the film, acting as a counterpoint to the witches.

There are a lot of interesting visual flourishes in terms of how certain elements of the story are framed. For example, the moving of Burnham Wood is shown through leaves flowing through the windows of Macbeth’s castle and the Witches are depicted along the lines of crows. This further helps to make this version of Macbeth stand out visually. The production design meanwhile has this harsh, angular feel that helps create a feeling of isolation throughout the film.

The performances as well add to the power of the film. Denzel Washington as Macbeth does a great job at showing the growing internal conflict in Macbeth, going from a good man to a tyrant and he plays the descent of Macbeth into cruelty and madness brilliantly. Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth does a good job at showing the influence and power she has over Macbeth and her growing guilt over her actions. There’s strong work from Brendan Gleeson as Duncan, Corey Hawkins as Macduff, Harry Melling as Malcolm and Bertie Carvell as Banquo and the use of Ralph Ineson (who, if you don’t know, played one of the witches in the Shakepeare Re-Told version of Macbeth with James McAvoy) creates a strong first impression for the film. There’s also a standout performance from Kathryn Hunter as the witches, her contortionist style body movements and powerful voice adding to the imagery of crows that the film presents for the witches, with the way she is framed in water and other reflections adding to the unearthly vibe of the character.

Overall, I found The Tragedy of Macbeth to be a very compelling and visually exciting adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. Joel Coen makes some interesting changes to the play, in terms of characters and staging, to make this a more unique adaptation of Macbeth, playing up the horror and surrealism of the story. Whilst I still think Throne of Blood is the best on-screen adaptation of Macbeth, and this version clearly owes a debt to Kurosawa, this is still a strong adaptation of the play.

My Rating: 4.5/5

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