Rural England, 1865. Teenager Katherine (Florence Pugh) is stifled by her loveless marriage to Alexander (Paul Hilton), a bitter man twice her age and whose ageing father Boris (Christopher Fairbank) arranged the marriage. His family are cold and unforgiving. When she embarks on a passionate affair with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a young worker on her husband's estate, a force is unleashed inside her, so powerful that she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Theatre director William Oldroyd distinguishes himself with this feature debut, demonstrating a strong cinematic instinct, letting images work; they speak volumes. Relocating the setting from the Russian countryside of the original novella to rural England does no damage at all to the work, since the themes are indeed universal, at least as they relate to the era. As Oldroyd says in his notes, "In literature of that period women like Katherine traditionally suffer in silence, fade away, or commit suicide. But here we have a young protagonist who fights for her independence, decides her own fate in a bloodthirsty way." It's a warning lest anyone expects this to be a simple female empowerment story in the retelling; Katherine (Florence Pugh) does empower herself, but at great moral cost, not something one would expect from a role model for girls.
Oldroyd and writer Alice Birch (also with a theatre background) made a couple of major changes to the plot, notably the ending and the invention of the black house servant character, Anna (Naomi Ackie). Indeed, Anna comes off as the most honourable and approachable character, and plays a crucial role in the reworked ending.
The film looks wonderful, with excellent design and some fine, sensitive interior lighting creating perfect mood, plus unfussy methodology to shoot even the most dramatic scenes. Of which there are several.
Florence Pugh is a standout as the 17 year old bartered bride thrust into an unnervingly cold and bristling household comprising the older son, Alexander (Paul Hilton) and his even older father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank). She is vulnerable and insecure, but soon carves herself a new and formidable persona, more like an avenging angel from the dark side. The title is not accidental.
Review by Louise Keller:
A savage tale of passion, Lady Macbeth does not pull any punches in its 88 minute running time, just as the cold winds whistle over the unforgiving moors. It’s a stunning feature debut for William Oldroyd, who mirrors the harshness of the environment with the evil scheming that bubbles within. Adapted from Nikolai Leskov’s novella and set in 19th century rural England, Alice Birch’s screenplay sizzles from its economy, exacerbating the power of the events from its lack of fanfare. Shocking, powerful, raw…. This is a film you will not forget.
The scene is succinctly set cinematically: a wedding, an arranged marriage, a tyrant of a father-in-law and daily tedium. Florence Pugh delivers an astonishing, assured performance as Katherine, whose beautiful face and serene expression hides the darkest of intents. Her tightly corseted gown contains the emotions that we have yet to discover. It is as though we discover of what Katherine is capable at the same time as she does. The house in which Katherine lives, is filled with hostility; all the sounds are harsh. All the sounds are exaggerated: a door opening, shoes stomping on the timber floor, shutters closing. Cruelty permeates like a bad smell – physical and psychological.
Catalyst for change comes in the beguiling form of the new cocky groomsman Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), who is the subject of Katherine’s unquenchable lust. Forbidden, torrid sex follows. Olroyd keeps all the scenes short, making the tempo of the exposition jerky and edgy. This all adds to the tension, which builds slowly as Katherine digs in her heels, refusing to cower or buckle as would be expected of a woman of the times.
The cast is hand picked with Christopher Fairbank suitably detestable as Katherine’s father in law Boris, Paul Hilton as her weakling husband and Naomi Ackie as the hired help who unwittingly becomes compliant in the quagmire of deceit. We watch with fascination and horror as Katherine eliminates each threat to her existence – one by one.
Moody and constantly surprising, the plot moves quickly as it serpentines over the emotional canvas. It’s a chilling film that will make your skin crawl.
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LADY MACBETH (MA15+)
CAST: Florence Pugh, Christopher Fairbank, Cosmo Jarvis, Ian Conningham, Paul Hilton, Bill Fellows, Naomi Ackie, Golda Rosheuvel
PRODUCER: Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly
DIRECTOR: William Oldroyd
SCRIPT: Alice Birch (novel by Nikolai Leskov)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ari Wegner
EDITOR: Nick Emerson
MUSIC: Dan Jones
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jacqueline Abrahams
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 29, 2017