In Review

Film review: The Tragedy of Macbeth

A stark, stylish adaptation starring Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington

“What’s the point of another Macbeth movie,” asked Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. It wasn’t long ago that Justin Kurzel’s version came out, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. “Well, there’s always a point if the film is as compelling and visually brilliant as this.” Directed by Joel Coen (“working for once without brother Ethan”), this “taut, athletic” take on Shakespeare’s tragedy delivers a “monochrome nightmare” refrigerated to “icy coldness”. In a role she was born for, Frances McDormand stars as Lady Macbeth, while her husband is played by Denzel Washington, who submits to his wife’s demands “like a soldier taking orders”. The film “hits its stride immediately”, creating a world of violence and pain that “scorches the retina”. 

This “bright, clean” film certainly looks good, said Simran Hans in The Observer: the castle is a “marvel of brutalist architecture”, and the “stark black-and-white cinematography” emphasises the hard lines and shadows. But the lead performances are “too measured to match the mania of the source text”. McDormand especially displays none of the bloodthirstiness required, only a “glasseyed” vacancy; by contrast, Kathryn Hunter – who plays all three witches as one contorted “weird sister”–“steals the show”. 

Washington and McDormand are two decades older than most actors who play the Macbeths, said Donald Clarke in The Irish Times, but the casting works: their age only “adds urgency” to the depiction of their quest for power. And yet, this “lean” film does lack colour: “This is a Macbeth for the head rather than the heart, but is no less beguiling for that.”

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