Murder and madness reign in William Shakespeare's play "The Tragedy of Macbeth", and though the same can be said of "Lady Macbeth", this is not of Shakespeare's work. Instead, "Lady Macbeth" is loosely based on the 1865 Russian novella, "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk" by Nikolai Leskov. Both director William Oldroyd and writer Alice Birch were captivated by Leskov's original plot, but major changes were made for their film adaptation.
Purchased along with a plot of useless land, Katherine (Florence Pugh), age 17, is married off to the landowner's much older son, Alexander (Paul Hilton). A sullen, miserable man, he shows absolutely no interest in Katherine nor in consummating their marriage. A disaster at one of the mines owned by his father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), sends Alexander off for an undetermined period.
Bored out of her mind and restricted to the large, lifeless house, Katherine finally escapes her dreary confines when Boris must depart for London. She walks the countryside alone, espied by Boris' groomsman, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis).
When Katherine's maid, Anna (Naomi Ackie), is bound, naked, by Sebastian and the other farmhands, Katherine comes to her rescue, only to be manhandled by this handsome and virile brute. At night, Sebastian sneaks into her bedroom and the table is set for the impending upheaval.
Pugh received rave reviews following the world premier of "Lady Macbeth" at last year's Toronto International Film Festival. Katherine decides quickly what she wants for herself and Pugh is only too happy to oblige by portraying this scandalous bride with all of the lust and verve she deserves. It is a remarkable performance --- cold and calculating --- and sublimely wicked. Katherine is so diabolical she manages to frighten poor Anna into a state of muteness.
Jarvis is an interesting choice for Sebastian. His rugged looks are marred by the sweat and grime of farm work --- and lack of soap. He initially plays Sebastian as a ruffian, but once Pugh shows Katherine's determination to control her options, Jarvis allows Sebastian's remorse and repugnance to surface.
"Lady Macbeth" is Oldroyd's first feature film. Both he and Birch have extensive backgrounds in the theatre world. Each was drawn to the idea of a woman in a subversive role. It's an amazing accomplishment for everyone involved as it was shot in only 24 days on a tight budget.
This is not a movie for the masses. Period pieces rarely are. But don't let any of this dissuade you from seeing it. "Lady Macbeth" is fraught with desire, tension and most importantly --- murder. It is deeply disturbing and brilliantly acted. It is not for the faint of heart --- it's a killer!
Opinion: See It Now!
If you're averse to anything Shakespeare, do not be dismayed by this misleading title. "Lady Macbeth" is the story of an unhappy wife, her overbearing husband, her crusty and cruel father-in-law, and her farmhand lover that takes place in 1865 in rural England. And it unleashes a brilliant young actress to the world of cinema.
Everybody is talking about Florence Pugh, and rightly so. She may go down as one of film's greatest female villains -- chilling and manipulative in order to get what she wants. As a result of her performance as Katherine in "Lady Macbeth", Pugh has garnered a slew of honors, mostly in the realm of brightest new star, best newcomer, etc.
Demeaned by her unfeeling older husband, Alexander (Paul Hilton), and bearing the disdain of her father-in-law, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), Katherine gets a measure of revenge when Alexander and Boris leave the estate. She and her new lover, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), are sexually insatiable --- in the beginning.
But as the film moves on, things get remarkably darker. In the process, the put-upon Katherine we admired and rooted for early on devolves into the personification of evil. It's really an extraordinary turn for Pugh.
Based on a novella by 19th century Russian writer Nikolai Leskov, "Lady Macbeth" is a succinct 89 minutes. Not a word of dialogue is wasted, and the use of music is extremely minimal. The supporting cast is excellent, including Naomi Ackie as Anna, the housemaid who bears the humiliating brunt of Boris and Katherine's meanness.
Making his feature film debut with "Lady Macbeth" is director William (Will) Oldroyd. His movie played earlier this year at Sundance after premiering and receiving great accolades at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2016.
Opinion: See It Now!