Oscar winner Joel Coen is no stranger to epic tales of heroes in pursuit of power—their stories laced with tragedy, violence, and madness. In the Coen brother’s first solo film following Ethan Coen’s departure from filmmaking, Joel takes on a classic tale: Shakespeare’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth. The first teaser trailer for the forthcoming adaptation sets the misty black-and-white stage, as the three witches foretell a prophecy to the power hungry Macbeths, who set their sights on the Scottish throne.
“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,” crows one of the silhouetted Weird Sisters.
One of the absolutely necessary components to pull off a noteworthy Shakespeare adaptation is a legendary cast, which The Tragedy Of Macbeth pulls together. Academy Award winners Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand play our Lord and Lady Macbeth, with Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, and Brendan Gleeson filling out the cast of characters. McDormand is no stranger to acting in her husband’s productions (she won her first Oscar for her role in Fargo), and the actor arrives as Lady Macbeth right off of her Oscar win for Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland. Moses Ingram, fresh off of her Emmy nomination for her debut role in The Queen’s Gambit, tops off the cast garnering fresh talent as well as seasoned, well-recognized actors.
In addition to the noir style, something distinct about Coen’s take on the Shakespeare tragedy is the place in time we are meeting these well-studied characters. As McDormand previously pointed out in an Instagram live discussion, both she and Washington are much older Macbeths than what’s typically seen, which creates the feeling of a “ticking clock.”
“I think a very important thing about Joel’s adaptation is that we are not calling it Macbeth,” McDormand said. “We’re calling it The Tragedy of Macbeth, which I think is an important distinction. In Joel’s adaptation, we are exploring the age of the characters and in our adaptation the Macbeths are older. Both Denzel and I are older than what is often cast as the Macbeths. We’re postmenopausal, we’re past childbearing age. So that puts a pressure on their ambition to have the crown. I think the most important distinction is that it is their last chance for glory.”
The theme of a ticking clock will be echoed in the score for The Tragedy Of Macbeth as well, composed by the Coen brothers’ longtime collaborator Carter Burwell. “The music, whatever it wants to be, wants to be something which is largely percussive and time-keeping,” Coen said of the score. “Beyond that, which is a very abstract way of thinking about it, nothing is concrete yet.”
The Tragedy of Macbeth arrives in theaters on December 25, and will be available for streaming on Apple TV+ January 14.