The story of William Shakespeare's Macbeth is not unfamiliar to most audiences. A classic tale of ambition, destruction, and magic, Macbeth has also been translated into many films, television shows, and plays for audiences since its inception. Joel Coen's The Tragedy of Macbeth is a 2021 version of Shakespeare's masterpiece with a few updates for the modern age.
Fans are noticing that the film — available on Apple TV Plus and in theaters — is shot entirely in black and white, a distinctive old-fashioned touch to a modern movie. Why is The Tragedy of Macbeth in black and white? Here's everything we know about cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel's choice.
Why is 'The Tragedy of Macbeth' in black and white?
In an interview with Newsweek, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel explained why the film was shot in black and white. First, he explained that director Joel Coen intended to film in Skye, Scotland, for the production, but the coronavirus pandemic changed the film's location to a sound stage.
Delbonnel explained, "So, it raised the question of, what are we going to build? And what is it going to be? And suddenly black-and-white became obvious because then people don't relate to anything, any colors or [anything], the wall is just walls."
He also decided to use light to indicate night and day, adding to the vagueness of the passage of time.
"It's never clear if it's day or night, or anything like that," Delbonnel explained. "And as the movie started it's like we were looking up but, in fact, we're looking down so Joel wanted to play with this kind of ambiguity.
"And suddenly black-and-white was a perfect tool, and the moving light was helping to go from night to day, or day to night, in a single shot and playing with that."
Bruno also noted he had previously worked with the Cohen brothers on Inside Llewellyn Davis. Because Ethan Coen was absent for The Tragedy of Macbeth, he was able to collaborate more closely with Joel on this production.
Indie Wire reports that on an episode of cinematographer Roger Deakins’ podcast Team Deakins, Deakins was joined by The Tragedy of Macbeth costumer Mary Zophres. She discussed the film being shot in black and white, saying it presented an interesting costuming challenge as well. The goal of the black and white was to accentuate different elements in the familiar tale to try and make it new for audiences.
While Joel Coen is not the first to play with black and white gradients in a filmed version of Shakespeare, his more minimalist perspective gives The Tragedy of Macbeth a new lens with which to reinterpret one of the Bard's most morally twisting stories.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is playing in limited theaters and streaming on Apple TV Plus.