“Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles.”
Shakespeare may seem daunting to many. The language and vocabulary are strange to our ears. We may have been force fed bits of it in high school, and we resent it. Don’t let that be a deterrent to seeing The Tragedy of Macbeth. This new adaptation and vision of the play was written for the screen and directed by Joel Coen. It is a way of experiencing one of the Bard’s better known plays in a richly satisfying production.
To briefly state the plot (for those who haven’t seen Macbeth), after winning a major battle Macbeth (Denzel Washington) is returning with his comrade Banquo (Bertie Carvel) when they encounter a trio of witches (Katheryn Hunter as all three Weird Sisters). The witches tell Macbeth that he is to be the next king of Scotland. Banquo, it is said, is to be the father of a line of kings, although not king himself. Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) supports this ambition and they plot the assassination of the king. The blood begins to run even more freely as Macbeth must shore up his power against the king’s son who has fled to England. The ambition leads to paranoia and tyranny, which will, in time, lead to destruction.
This is an exceptionally moody production, in part because of the black and white cinematography and its use of shadows and fog, but also because of some wonderfully blocked shots that heighten the sense of a crescendo of madness in Macbeth and his wife.
The performances are all extraordinary. First among them is Hunter as the Weird Sisters, but also Washington and McDormand shine as the original power couple. They allow the characters to evolve along with their ambitions and madness. They are people who have set aside their morality to chase after a vision they have of destiny. And we watch as these characters become darker and darker as the story progresses. I especially liked the scene in which Lady Macbeth asks the spirits to take away her feminine nature and fill her with cruelty.
There is a reason Shakespeare continues to be taught centuries after his death. It’s not the iambic pentameter or what we now think of as flowery language (or amusing insults). It is because the things he wrote about are at the very core of our experience. Macbeth is one of the best examples of that. Today’s world continues to be filled with those who grasp for power without regard for right. There have been bloodbaths in every corner of the world to gain or maintain control of nations and peoples. This story also demonstrates the way such ambition without morality can eventually corrode the souls and the very humanity of those who act in such ways. We often think that the guilt of their actions drove Macbeth and his wife to madness. Perhaps those deeds were the true madness that was their undoing.
The Tragedy of Macbeth in in theaters and comes to Apple TV+ on January 14th, 2022.
Photos courtesy of Apple Original Films.