Emergent British actor Florence Pugh delivers a monstrous performance, in both senses of the word, in Lady Macbeth, a pitch-dark period drama that focuses on a Shakespearean main character that ascends from hell, exposing her murderous instincts to solve all the predicaments that may destabilize her will.
In 19th-century England, the young Katherine (Pugh) is sold to the Lesters, a wealthy rural family composed of Boris (Christopher Fairbank), an authoritarian old man, and his bitter, tormented son, Alexander (Paul Hilton). She was bought to marry the latter, who treats her with bluntness and rudeness while strangely keeps rejecting her sexually. This behavior drives her crazy and increases her craving for an affair, which eventually happens with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), the impertinent new stableman.
“… portraits a possessive, lusty relationship poisoned by a murky feline woman.”
Obstinate and prepotent, Katherine, who had been strictly forbidden to leave the house, refuses to comply with the rules of her ruling father-in-law and remorselessly poisons him to have her way.
When her estranged husband returns after a long absence, confronting her with the affair already made public, Katherine doesn’t feel intimidated. On the contrary, she provokes his wrath by exhibiting Sebastian to him. The ambitious lovers murder the dishonored Alexander and fulfill their dream: to become the masters of the entire estate.
Everything went exactly according to the plan, except for the unexpected arrival of a strange and self-assured woman who brings her grandson Teddy to live in the house. According to her, the young boy is the son of Alexander and her daughter, his mistress.
“Unusual, uncomfortable, austere, and tragic…”
Cerebrally insidious and wildly violent by turns, Lady Macbeth was elegantly put together and thoroughly controlled by the first-time director William Oldroyd, who followed a screenplay by Alice Birch, based on the novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Russian novelist and playwright Nikolai Leskov. Opting for an unadorned filmmaking style likely influenced by the also English Andrea Arnold and Terence Davis, the gifted newcomer thoroughly portraits a possessive, lusty relationship poisoned by a murky feline woman whose impulsive, tenebrous, and immoral acts make her a worthy object of study in psychology and psychiatry.
This is a fantastic example on how to seek inspiration in past literary works and create bold fresh material.
Unusual, uncomfortable, austere, and tragic, this drama film will likely give you the bitterest taste you’ve had this year in the movie theaters.
Lady Macbeth (2017) Directed by William Oldroyd. Written by Alice Birch. Starring: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie.
8 out of 10