‘Tragedy Of Macbeth,’ Starring Denzel Washington And Frances McDormand, To Open 2021 New York Film Festival

Black and white photograph of Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in an embrace, and in silohoueette

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” New York Film Film Festival / Apple/A24

A black-and-white adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth will launch the 59th New York Film Festival.

The Tragedy of Macbeth, directed by Joel Coen and starring Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, will make its world premiere at Lincoln Center on September 24th. The press release calls it “a work of stark chiaroscuro and incantatory rage…an anguished film that stares, mouth agape, at a sorrowful world undone by blind greed and thoughtless ambition.”

Coen said in a statement, “The New York Film Festival is a place where I’ve been watching movies as an audience member and showing them as a filmmaker for almost 50 years. It’s a real privilege and a thrill to be opening the Festival this year with The Tragedy of…” He and brother Ethan Coen recently premiered The Ballad of Buster Scruggs at the 2018 festival, and also showed Inside Llewyn Davis in 2013, No Country for Old Men in 2007, and Miller’s Crossing in 1990.

In an interview last year, Coen revealed that McDormand, his wife, had asked him to direct the Scottish play for the stage. According to The Film Stage, “I’m really not a stage director, so I [didn’t do it]. But when I saw her in a production that she did”—she was in a 2016 Berkeley rep production—”it made me start thinking about the play and it made me want to work with her on the play because I was so impressed with what she was doing with the part of Lady Macbeth, so I thought that would be an interesting thing to work together on and to do as a movie. So when I started thinking about it in terms of a movie, it became more accessible to me, intellectually, and that’s when it started.”

“In Joel’s adaptation, we are exploring the age of the characters and our adaptation the Macbeths are older,” McDormand explained in the same interview. “Both Denzel [Washington] 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.”

Washington is no stranger to Shakespeare—he played Richard III in a 1990 Shakespeare in the Park staging and Don Pedro in the 1993 film of Much Ado About Nothing.

“We can’t wait to welcome New York Film Festival audiences back to Lincoln Center this fall, and what a way to do that!” said Eugene Hernandez, Director of the New York Film Festival. Last year, the festival had to pivot during the pandemic, he noted, “our Festival traveled to Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and around the country via our Virtual Cinema. This year we’re back in our Upper West Side home, but you’ll also find us exploring new venues and ways to connect with moviegoers in person, outdoors, and online—stay tuned!”

NYFF festival passes are now on sale through Friday, July 30; NYFF tickets will go on sale to the general public on Tuesday, September 7th (Film at Lincoln Center members will get early access ticket sales opportunities). Last year’s New York Film Festival screened films including Small Axe, Nomadland (which eventually won numerous Academy Awards including Best Picture), Time, and Gunda.