Joel Coen's new 'Macbeth' movie will be more like 'a crime thriller'

Ben Arnold
·Contributor
·3-min read
Frances Mc Dormand and Joel Coen at photocall of Festival del Cinema of Rome at Auditorium Parco della Musica. (Photo by Silvia Lore/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Frances Mc Dormand and Joel Coen (Credit: Silvia Lore/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Joel Coen, one half of the Coen brothers, is planning to make a new movie version of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

But this adaptation of the Scottish play will have a twist to it.

To be called The Tragedy of Macbeth (Shakespeare's full title), it will star long-time Coen collaborator – and the director’s wife – Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington in the lead roles.

McDormand and Cohen took part in a 30-minute interview with Italian director Damiano Michieletto as part of a fundraiser for the Teatro Le Fenice opera house in Venice.

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“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 our adaptation the Macbeths are older. Both Denzel [Washington] and I are older than what is often cast as the Macbeths,” said McDormand.

“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.”

She went on: “Something that’s very important to me is that they are an older couple and it’s very important for my performance that they are a childless couple, but that there have been many pregnancies and perhaps child born that have died either in stillbirth or very young.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 06: (L-R) Melissa Bell, Frances McDormand, W. Kamau Bell and Denzel Washington attend the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Denzel Washington at Dolby Theatre on June 06, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI)
Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington attend the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Denzel Washington (Credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI)

“I think that it is her personal tragedy that fuels her ambition to give her husband the crown because she has not been able to give him an heir. For me, that is the essence of the character.”

Coen added: “It’s interesting how Shakespeare sort of pre-figured certain tropes in American thriller and crime literature that were common in the early part of the 20th century, which just had to do with, in crime novels, a story centred around a husband and a wife who plotted a murder.

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“So that’s something that Shakespeare is obviously doing in Macbeth that you see echoes of in crime fiction, in American anyway, in the early part of the 20th century. That kind of fiction I used to read as a kid. I thought it would be interesting to bring certain aspects of that to the production of the movie.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 22: Ray Fearon as Macbeth and Tara Fitzgerald as Lady Macbeth in William Shakespeare's Macbeth directed by Iqban Khan at The Globe Theatre on June 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Robbie Jack/Corbis via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 22: Ray Fearon as Macbeth and Tara Fitzgerald as Lady Macbeth in William Shakespeare's Macbeth directed by Iqban Khan at The Globe Theatre on June 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Robbie Jack/Corbis via Getty Images)

“The only thing I did, as is common in these adaptations, some more of less, there’s a certain amount of editing. But I would say the movie is about 85% of the language in the play. There’s about 15% which has been cut.”

Another key difference, he added, is that the play's Witches will be voiced by one actor, Kathryn Hunter, and rather than witches, they will birds.

As yet the movie, which is being distributed by A24, has no scheduled release date.