Shakespeare and macabre films are two of my favorite things. Therefore, I was nothing but thrilled at the news of a combination of the two brought to us in the form of a film rendition of The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) by A24 and released on Christmas Day (to spread some cheer, obviously). I was not disappointed in my expectations either. The Tragedy of Macbeth is a minimal yet visually stunning and emotionally intense film that does justice to one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies.

After a battle in which Macbeth (Denzel Washington) emerges victorious against the traitorous Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth and Banquo (Bertie Carvel) encounter three witches who announce prophecies that touch on the deepest desires of Macbeth’s heart. In the events that follow, Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, carry out their treacherous plot against King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson) and get everything they wanted. But they pay the price of their sanity, and later, their lives.

The film is directed by none other than Joel Coen (of the legendary Coen brothers). Although the Coens are mostly known for their folky comedies and this type of film seems unusual for their style, The Tragedy of Macbeth is a testament to Joel Coen’s skills as a versatile director. Similar to Coen’s other films, this film very much reminds me of a play. The setting, costumes, and staging of the actors are very prop-like. The black and white filming is also note-worthy as a strength of the film, making it atmospheric and beautiful in a simple way.

I think of this play as one of Shakespeare’s best psychological thrillers. As such, I appreciate the way in which Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand steal the show. Washington’s portrayal of the agony that Macbeth experiences over the premeditated murder of King Duncan, as well as his subsequent emergence as a mad tyrant is raw, evoking both pity and disgust. McDormand as Lady Macbeth is terrifying, in a different way, as a cold-hearted murderess. However, the witches, played by one actress (Kathryn Hunter) are my favorite bit of acting; Hunter mutters and hisses out each line in a way that gave me chills.

As the doctor (Jefferson Mays) who judges Lady Macbeth’s condition remarks, “Unnatural deeds to breed unnatural troubles.” In addition to being a masterful retelling, The Tragedy of Macbeth is a reminder that taking short-cuts in life to follow one’s ambition never ends well – even, and perhaps especially, when foretold by dark powers.




Setting and Props


Black and White







  • Director: Joel Coen
  • Starring: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Harry Melling, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Kathryn Hunter, Moses Ingram, Jefferson Mays
  • Production Company: A24, IAC Films
Muriel Truax

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