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THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH (2021) Review – London Film Festival 2021

Charlie reviews THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH calling it “a love letter to Shakespeare fans.” The film streams on Apple TV+ in January.



The Tragedy of Macbeth

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is one of the most critically acclaimed plays of all time. That is the simplest way to put it. Since its debut in 1606, it has been brought to the stage hundreds of times and has had multiple adaptations to the screen – all of which being fairly divisive. However, the Coen Brothers have truly made a name for themselves in Hollywood over the past thirty years, from directing the likes of No Country For Old Men and Fargo to The Big Lebowski, so when one of the brothers, Joel Coen, decided to make another adaptation of the classic source material, it surely grabbed my attention. But, is The Tragedy of Macbeth a brilliant adaptation of the play?

If you are reading this review or are interested in this movie, you probably know the plot of the film. However, for those not familiar with the plot, Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth follows the titular character, Macbeth (played by Denzel Washington), the Thane of Glamis, who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches (all played by Kathryn Hunter) that one day he will become the King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife (played by Frances McDormand), Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.

As the closing film for this year’s London Film Festival, anticipation was high for Joel Coen’s Macbeth movie and sadly, I have found myself to be incredibly mixed overall. By technical standards, it is a perfect film. The monochrome cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is absolutely gorgeous from beginning to end and truly creates the entire atmosphere for the film. By telling this story in black and white is so effective and works incredibly well. Coen deliberately uses lighting in such a way that makes each set piece feel chilling and establishes a dark mood that is consistently shown throughout the film. The production design from Nancy Haigh is exquisite too. Most of the story takes place in Inverness Castle and the way the entire building looks is amazing. Every single frame in the building is filled with detail and creates this epic feel to the whole movie.

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand are also flat out fantastic as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. They truly embody the characters that Shakespeare created over four-hundred years ago. Every single time they appear in the movie, they command the entire screen and deliver haunting performances that are some of the best I have seen all year. Denzel, in particular, deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance here that is unlike anything we have seen from the actor before, as he slowly descends into madness, and his delivery of seventeenth century language felt fluent in such an indescribable way. While McDormand isn’t in the film as much as Washington, she also gets to thrive as the Queen of Scotland.

However, that’s where my positives end for The Tragedy of Macbeth. The film feels like it was made for Shakespeare lovers, and Shakespeare lovers only. From the language down to the monologues, it will certainly divide audiences. As someone who has only done the basics for Macbeth in high school, I would certainly be lost if I hadn’t read the book. I genuinely didn’t understand roughly seventy percent of the dialogue due to the old-English dialect, and that is not a joke, it truly tampered with my viewing experience with the film. I felt like I was playing catch-up for most of the runtime instead of being able to sit back, relax and enjoy the film.

The Tragedy of Macbeth is a love letter to Shakespeare fans and they will absolutely adore it! The production design and black & white cinematography are jaw dropping to look at while the entire cast are fantastic, especially Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand who both deliver awards-worthy performances. Casual viewers will certainly be disappointed due to the old-English language but it is still worth a watch for the performances alone.

A24 and Apple’s The Tragedy of Macbeth will be available to stream exclusively on Apple TV+ from January 14th.

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