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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

The Tragedy of Macbeth (M) - 105 minutes

I couldn’t think of a better use of the term murder of crows than when describing Joel Coen’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth.

The reason will become clear if you choose to see this striking film.

For those not familiar with the story, it starts with a wounded soldier reporting to King Duncan of Scotland (Brendan Gleeson) that generals Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis (Denzel Washington) and Banquo (Bertie Carvel) have just secured a major victory.

Particularly worthy of acknowledgment for his bravery and fighting prowess is the former, a distant cousin, referred to as the King’s kinsman.

Three witches appear before Macbeth and Banquo announcing that Macbeth will be gifted the additional title of Thane of Cawdor, and will thereafter become King.

That pronouncement fuels Macbeth’s ambitions.

While King Duncan openly praises Macbeth, he announces that his son, Malcolm (Harry Melling), will be his heir.

When Macbeth informs his wife, Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand), of the witches’ prophecies, she tells her husband he must act with murderous intent to secure the ultimate prize.

He does so and thus begins a path to destruction for both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, but not before the former embarks on a reign of terror.

Whether or not you are familiar with Shakespearian English, which is the language by which this tale of evil unfolds, there is no mistaking what is going down.

The plotting, the subterfuge, the angst and the terror are well captured in this austere production that has a decidedly theatrical bent.

The way it unfolds, you could just as readily be watching this as a stage play.

Coen makes marvellous use of shadows in his black and white treatment in the old television 4:3 ratio that is his want.

The haunting sound of banging and knocking, in what at times appears like a battering ram, is a portent of doom.

Clouds are also a mainstay, as is fog and indoor settings all but devoid of furniture, save for that which is absolutely essential (read into that the occasional chair or table).

The modern, angular concrete-riddled production design is an unmistakable feature.

Washington captures the paranoia of Macbeth, while McDormand metamorphosises from confident to broken.

When the first witch appears – all bony and twisted – it is hard not to think of Gollum in Lord of the Rings, such is the power of Kathryn Hunter’s portrayal.

She positively bristles with intent to lay the foundations of this saga of ill-gotten gain and its consequences.

There is razor sharp tension throughout The Tragedy of Macbeth, giving the Bard a new poetic voice through Coen’s lens.

A film for selective tastes, it hits the mark perfectly.

Rated M, it scores an 8½ out of 10.


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