The writer-director talks about his new film, co-starring Denzel Washington, and reveals how it felt to work without his brother, Ethan, for the first time in nearly 40 years

It might be the unlucky play for British theatre rep types. But for movie directors, Macbeth has been a talisman, a fascinating and liberating challenge – for Akira Kurosawa, with his version, Throne of Blood; for Roman Polanski; and for Justin Kurzel. Even Orson Welles’s once-scorned movie version from 1948, with its quaint Scottish accents, is admired today for its lo-fi energy.

Now, Joel Coen, the co-creator of masterpieces such as Fargo, The Big Lebowski, A Serious Man and No Country for Old Men, has directed a starkly brilliant version entitled The Tragedy of Macbeth, shot in high-contrast black and white, an eerie nightmare of clarity and purity, with Denzel Washington as Macbeth and Frances McDormand (Coen’s wife) as Lady Macbeth.

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