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  • Writer's pictureEllis Barthorpe

The Tragedy of Macbeth ★★★★

Joel Coen

Starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Kathryn Hunter, Corey Hawskins

Macbeth: one of the most famous characters of all time. Alongside Hamlet, the character has been riffed on countless times by a variety of actors; on film Michael Fassbender, Orson Welles and Sam Worthington have all played the fictional Thane, and now it is Denzel Washington who wears the crown and sinks his teeth in to a gritty, disorienting encapsulation of guilt and disloyalty.

Denzel Washington is one of the finest actors working today, and here he shows us why. He follows so many great actors to have played the character on stage and screen, and he ranks up with the best among them. It is his counterpart here however who delivers stronger: Frances McDormand, fresh off the back of her Oscar winning performance in Nomadland proves that she really is the best in the business. From her first shot to her final you can tell that McDormand gets Lady Macbeth, and it's an interesting choice to have both leads use their American accents, though this just adds to the eccentricity of the whole thing.

The choice to shoot in a squarish frame in black and while was a good one. Of course primarily it is a stylistic choice but there is an enigmatic beauty that protrudes from each corner, and it's that mystery that makes this a relevant retelling. A use of obvious sets gives this a theatrical feel and every single shot is thought out to within an inch. It has a perfection that gives reason for its existence, capturing everything that the original script intended whilst still finding new ground to walk on.

The performances, as great as they were, did not always necessarily blow me away. Visually it was new and fresh and exciting but the text itself was the same, and sometimes crevices of intrigue could have been explored even more.

One performance does break new ground though. In one of the greatest Shakespearean performances I've ever seen Kathryn Hunter plays the witches in a new, unbelievably creepy way. Every time Hunter was on screen I honestly couldn't believe what I was watching.

Joel Coen manages to find humour in the bizarre nature of Shakespeare's tragedy, and the cinematography throughout is off the charts. It's very sure of its telling and it's beautiful, and although it won't be everyones cup of tea, there's no denying its amazing telling of Shakespeare on film.

The Tragedy of Macbeth available now on Apple TV+

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