The first trailer for Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth is less than a minute long, but it has instantly driven up anticipation for the atmospheric film that’s scheduled to release on Apple TV+ early in 2022
The Tragedy of Macbeth is making history, and not just because it’s an adaptation of Shakespeare’s fictional account of war-ravaged Scotland in the 11th-century. This is the first film from the famous Coens to involve only one jOEL. Reports emerged in 2020 that Ethan and Joel Coen’s partnership, which has produced 36 films over a 40-year career, had amicably ended after Ethan decided not to make any more films.
That looks to be confirmed with The Tragedy of Macbeth, as Joel Coen takes on writing, directing, and producing duties without Ethan. Joel has brought some familiar faces with him, though. While long-time Coen Brothers collaborator Carter Burwell is providing the score, Joel’s wife Frances McDormand takes on the pivotal role of Lady Macbeth – on top of production duties alongside her husband and Robert Graf.
It’s Denzel Washington who takes on the tragic hero of the title. Opposite McDormand and Washington, Shakespeare’s ultimate power couple, are Corey Hawkins as Macduff, Harry Melling as Malcolm, and Bertie Carvel as Banquo. Brendan Gleeson, who last worked with Joel Coen on The Ballad of Buster Scruggs in 2018, takes on the role of King Duncan.
What does the short trailer tell us about the upcoming film, and is that a spoiler in the title?
What happens in the trailer for the Tragedy of Macbeth?
The film takes the full name of Shakespeare’s play, which is thought to have been first performed in 1606. The title isn’t so much a spoiler as an indication of what audiences can expect – and no, it doesn’t end well. The trailer does an excellent job of conveying a slow march towards a tragic ending.
It opens with an atmospheric shot of circling crows as an ominous beat alternates with what sounds like footsteps. Critically, there are three crows – the same number as witches, or wayward sisters, that generals Macbeth and Banquo encounter near the start of the play.
We see the two approach the three witches who are shrouded in mist. In the play, they encounter the witches on a heath after victory in battle. The setting in this scene suggests that the witches are far closer to the battle’s aftermath.
A lingering close-up on Denzel Washington’s face sums up his apprehension and perhaps shock at the prophecy that the witches have for him. They act like fates in classical mythology, setting the ambitious soldier on a destructive path after telling him he is destined to be king. Macbeth is reluctant to believe the witches until the prophecy that he would be made Thane of Cawdor is quickly proved true.
The trailer shows us how Macbeth’s rise to the top unfolds. We see the king of Scotland and his entourage, an empty crown picked up, and a smirking Macbeth, presumably when things are going to plan.
The film was shot entirely on soundstages in black and white to maintain a sense of unreality. It helps to create an ominous atmosphere, and the visuals look stunning. At one point, we see Macbeth step into a sharp spotlight. It’s a simple representation of the split between dark and light in the play, of vacuums waiting to be filled, and the circles of dark drawing around its characters.
The only dialogue in the trailer is credited to the Second Witch in the play. Interestingly, The Tragedy of Macbeth credits all three witches to actress Kathryn Hunter. That’s undoubtedly her distinctive voice, reciting one of the lay’s most famous lines:
“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”
Be in no doubt that something evil is on its way. It’s no mistake that the line ends on the appearance of Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth, turning from the light. Lady Macbeth is a hugely important part of the story, encouraging her husband before paying the consequences. The nature of the evil the witch refers to will be at the heart of the film. Macbeth explores the effect of ambition, greed, and also self-determination. Once Macbeth hears the witch’s predictions, is he able to break the cycle?
Where will The Tragedy of Macbeth be available?
The Tragedy of Macbeth had its world premiere at the 2021 New York Film Festival on September 24, 2021. A24 has scheduled it for a limited theatrical release on December 25, 2021, before it’s available to stream on Apple TV+ on January 14, 2022.