There are many critics out there saying that it’s probably time to stop adapting Shakespeare plays into movies. I’d say they’re 80% right. We all know the stories, we’ve all been bored to death by them in school (in the UK, anyway), and they’ve all been done a thousand times. In this case though, at least the aesthetics are – as they say – on point.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is exactly what you’d expect. A straight adaptation from page to screen, the script is word-for-word exactly the same as the popular Shakespeare tragedy. What makes a difference here though is the combination of some masterful visuals and a bunch of really tip top performances. To condense the whole plot into a single line, Macbeth (Denzel Washington), spurred on by his ambition and his morally questionable wife, murders his king in cold blood in order to take the crown for himself.
My personal issue with Shakespeare is that unless you’re wildly and naturally intelligent, there’s not a chance you’ll have a clue what’s going on. That is, if you’ve not studied it academically. Luckily for me, Macbeth is just about the only Shakespeare play that didn’t make me want to gouge my own eyes out when I was at school.
Quite simply, I believe that this is one of the very few films this year that is deserving of all its Oscar nominations. Though it’s difficult to see Denzel Washington getting a look in for the Best Actor win, his performance here is perfect. He acts with such a sincerity and magnetism in this instance that it may very well be a career-best performance for him. Though Frances McDormand as his support was snubbed, she stands by a stoic and nuanced Washington and matches his talent. In a surprising turn however, I would be remiss not to mention Kathryn Hunter, who is nothing short of brilliant as the witches. Indeed, the cast are all on the money, especially the two leads.
Now visually – as I’ve already briefly mentioned – this movie is absolutely stunning. There are still elements that contribute towards a stagey feel, yet it’s all just so cinematic in composition and camerawork. A direct opposite to Belfast, the black & white only adds to the marvellous simplicity on show. There are many shots that appear completely original and unique, and the use of lighting is especially impressive in that it works in tandem with the colour palette to enhance the drama that unfolds.
Alas, my distaste for Shakespeare takes over at this point. Though the story itself is far more interesting than many other plays, the Shakespearean language is so off-putting to me and probably many others. Thankfully, the performances are so convincing that this reiteration is mostly followable. Without Washington and McDormand, there’s not a chance I’d have paid so much attention.
From a filmmaking standpoint, The Tragedy of Macbeth is a dense tutorial in directorial and optical precision. Whilst I enjoyed this much more than I expected to due to there being plenty to like, it’s not something I ever wish to see again.
I’d take an album full of stills though – they’d look marvellous on my hallway wall.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is available to stream on Apple TV+ in the UK.
TQR Category Ratings:
Costume & Set Design:
Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½