Macbeth star McDormand says the play got her into acting

New York – Without his brother Ethan, but with cinema heavyweights Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, US director Joel Coen took up the challenge of adapting Macbeth, producing a sleek film that remains true to Shakespeare’s great text.

With The Tragedy Of Macbeth, which premiered on the opening night of the 59th New York Film Festival on Friday, Coen follows in the footsteps of Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Roman Polanski and other cinema greats who adapted the play for the screen.

“Macbeth is maybe the Shakespeare play that lends itself to cinema the most,” said Dennis Lim, director of programming at the festival.

“I think there’s something about the structure, the pace, the action, and the themes.” 

Having won numerous awards, including Oscars for Fargo and No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers have worked across different genres, directing adventure films, comedies and thrillers laced with black humour.

For this project, Coen chose a work with a long history and layers of meaning.

Filmed in black and white, the play of light and shade is omnipresent, especially on the face of Macbeth, who is portrayed masterfully by Washington.

Coen cited Danish cinema master of the 1920s and 1930s Carl Dreyer and German expressionism as inspirations for his interpretation of Macbeth.

The film’s dialogues, which ring very close to Shakespeare’s text, are rendered deftly by Washington and McDormand, both Academy Award winners.

“The first thing that got me hooked on wanting to be an actor for the rest of my life was the sleepwalking scene from the tragedy,” McDormand, who portrays the the protagonist's cunning wife Lady Macbeth, said.

“And I did it when I was 14, so I’ve pretty much been practising rehearsing for 50 years,” said the 64-year-old US actress, who is married to Coen.

The film will also be screened at the London Film Festival in October and then released in theatres for a limited time on Dec 25 before being broadcast from Jan 14 on Apple TV+.

Asked about this strategy, which some contend spells catastrophe for the big screen, Coen said he and his brother owe their success in independent cinema to home video, relating it to TV.

“The reason we were able to have a career is because the studios at that point had an ancillary market that was a backstop for more risky films, which were VHS cassettes or all these home video markets, which is essentially television.” - AFP