The Tragedy of Macbeth

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Tragedy of Macbeth Movie Poster Image
Stark, violent, and one of the best Shakespeare films ever.
  • R
  • 2021
  • 105 minutes

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Kids say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Stands out for diverse representations.

Positive Messages

As complex as the play may seem, it's basically a morality tale about people who didn't make good choices and ultimately pay a price that's more or less equal to their crimes. Power corrupts, and those in power will do anything, regardless of moral implications, to keep it.

Positive Role Models

No positive role models here. The two main characters commit murder and frame innocent people to make a grab at power, then continue down the same path. Most other characters are merely victims. Even those who remain standing in the end were forced to do so via violence.

Diverse Representations

A diverse take on Shakespeare, with a Black leading man and an interracial couple at the center. Macduff, another of the play's most important characters, is Black, as is his family (though they're brutally killed).


Strong violence. Knives and stabbing. Bloody wounds. Dripping blood, pools of blood. Fighting with swords. Beheading. Women and children killed. Unsettling, scary images.


Minor sexual innuendo.


Uses of "damn," "hell."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Minor characters appear drunk. Background drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Tragedy of Macbeth is director Joel Coen's adaptation of William Shakespeare's tragic play, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. Masterfully made, diversely cast, and filmed in stark black and white, it's one of the best Shakespeare movies ever made, and it's highly recommended for mature viewers. Violence is the biggest issue, with knives, stabbing, sword fighting, blood, a beheading, and the murder of a woman and children, as well as some spooky imagery involving the witches. Other than that, "damn" and "hell" are used, and there's some fairly innocent Shakespeare-style sexual innuendo. Minor characters appear drunk, and there's some background drinking.

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What's the story?

In THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH, Macbeth (Denzel Washington) and Banquo (Bertie Carvel) return from war. They encounter three witches (all played by Kathryn Hunter), who offer prophecies. Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and then king. Banquo won't be king, but he will be the father of future kings. Back in Scotland, Macbeth learns that he has now, indeed, been named Thane of Cawdor, so he begins thinking about the next prophecy. Meanwhile, the current king (Brendan Gleeson) plans to spend the night at the Macbeth castle. Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) talks her husband into killing the king. He has misgivings but goes through with the deed, and the murder is blamed on two drunk chamberlains. Now king, Macbeth begins to obsess about Banquo and the other part of the prophecy. Worse, Lady Macbeth starts to come unraveled, and the witches return with even stranger prophecies.

Is it any good?

Stark and severe, with a level of artistry rarely achieved in movies, this black-and-white tragedy may be the best Macbeth ever made, and it's certainly one of the best-ever Shakespeare adaptations. Director Joel Coen -- working for the first time without his brother Ethan -- covers ground formerly trod by Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, and Roman Polanski and surpasses them all with his expressionistic, intensely vivid The Tragedy of Macbeth. The angles and lines and blades of light displayed onscreen by Coen and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel slash the play down to its most elemental, primal levels. All staginess is gone. It's exhilarating. It's as if the play were always meant to be a movie -- this movie.

Washington is magisterial in the title role, bringing his singular vocal flavor to the dialogue and providing an inner uncoiling as Macbeth loses his way. (Washington had previous Shakespeare experience in Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing.) Sharp and commanding, McDormand might have been born to play Lady Macbeth. Theater veteran Hunter is likewise astonishing as all three witches, coming across like nightmarish praying (or preying) mantises. Even the score by Carter Burwell, whose work is often lush and luxurious, consists of spare, cautionary music that sounds like a death knell. Every element of The Tragedy of Macbeth, from the hard, cold furniture to the swirling crows and drifting fog, is exactly right, but it's a precision that gets to the heart of the tale's dark emotions.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in The Tragedy of Macbeth. How did it make you feel? Was it exciting? Shocking? What did the movie show or not show to achieve this effect? Why is that important?

  • Do you think Macbeth would have thought to kill the king if he hadn't heard the prophecy from the witches? What purpose do the witches serve in this story?

  • Why do we still tell Shakespeare's stories after hundreds of years? What can we learn from them?

  • How is this version of Macbeth different from others you might have seen? Is there any one "correct" way to adapt/perform Shakespeare?

  • How many familiar phrases or lines did you recognize in the movie ("the milk of human kindness," "the be-all and the end-all," "one fell swoop," etc.)? Did you know how many figures of speech Shakespeare was responsible for?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

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