2017’s Lady Macbeth Plays Like a Shakespearean Fever Dream
Entrancing is a perfect way to describe Lady Macbeth. While you watch the film, you can’t keep your eyes off the high-brow drama. Even after the credits roll, it sits with you. That shows the raw talent of director William Oldroyd to convey these emotions in his feature film debut. It isn’t just his work that shines as lead actress Florence Pugh is a force.
Lady Macbeth follows the story of Katherine, a woman sold into a loveless marriage. The film opens with a wedding and possibly the worst wedding night in ever. Everything from the first conversations that sound like business negotiations to a pointless strip down, this scene plays cold and very uncomfortable. What makes it so great is how much the filmmakers go out their way to make the husband Alexander Lester an afterthought. Katherine’s husband attempts to make her feel like an object, but she is the one with all the importance in this situation. That’s a running theme that Katherine is always in control.
Things get even more uncomfortable for the husband and wife when Alexander forces Katherine to strip again, to only feel himself and leave her out of the situation. Katherine is ready for this sexual encounter but feels even more degraded when he won’t touch her. There’s a sense that Katherine is willing to make the most of this situation with some freedom or respect, but not the cards she’s dealt. Sadly for everyone involved, her repression has serious ramifications.
The moment her husband leaves with his horrible father, Katherine gives herself some much-needed freedom. Well, as much freedom as her nosy housemaid Anna allows before reporting back to someone. During the extended time her husband is away, Katherine begins an affair with one of the workers on the land. The relationship between the two starts off interesting as they have a heated first interaction. She has some power as the wife of a landowner, but her gender undermines any of that status.
Katherine spirals into a twisted game of murder, sex, and revenge to get what she wants. No one is safe as she manipulates her way to a wild and unknown end game.
Deconstruction of 2017’s Lady Macbeth
William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth serves as a film adaption of the 1865 novel titled Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. With an opera and a 1961 film, Oldroyd and his team took on the task of telling this story uniquely. The original novel and opera are both Russian stories; this movie has a rural England setting in 1865. Nothing changes from the source material other than minor plot details and a few names. The important message of a woman seeking a personal rebellion in a repressed time still plays the same.
Lady Macbeth is unrelentingly in how dark it is. The movie seems to bask in being evil, as much Katherine does in the story. Seeing a woman break the chains set on her by society is delightful to see, but it’s genuinely interesting to see it when the rebel is twisted. Actress Florence Pugh plays this character with perfection. Each movement seems calculated but never over-rehearsed; that goes for the actor and the character. There’s a detailed plan of every action, and you’ll never tell it by her face. Staying calm under pressure is so easy for Katherine that you quickly see how scary she is. Nothing breaks her down. This woman juggles an affair, overbearing authority figures, and her morality with ease, even if it can be a little extreme.
Everything isn’t all doom and gloom for the film. The scene where Katherine finally gets out of the house feels light and quite beautiful. Even after a gruff first encounter, the love between Katherine and her lover Sebastian feels real. You can’t help but root Katherine on at first. She is vigorous and bold, but a little aggressive. That support doesn’t last too much time as you see Katherine’s freedom comes at a cost to everyone around here.
“You have no idea of the damage you can cause.”
-Alexander Lester (Paul Hilton)
Lady Macbeth seems dire in the landscape of massive Hollywood blockbusters. Saying this movie is stripped-back isn’t taking away from the tremendous achievements, but it’s great to see a film focus on the craftsmanship more than the marketability. Everything is shot simple, but it helps the real meaning not get lost in all the glitz.
Everyone behind-the-camera shines as much as the on-screen talent does. You can’t praise with the movie without touching on the beautiful aesthetics. The costumes and set design stand out, but never distracts from the topic at hand. It also helps that cinematographer Ari Wegner captures every shot beautifully. There are distinct shots of exterior locations that Wegner makes even more striking, and there are close-ups of characters that tell a story without even dialogue. Major applause to his camera work and he’s an underdog name that should be in Oscar talks.
All of the other departments aside, this is a film that wouldn’t function without director William Oldroyd and writer Alice Birch. For this to be William Oldroyd’s feature film debut is insane. While his background in stage prepared him for such an isolated movie, the amount of experience here feels like a 40-year pro. The performances he brings out of the actors is the stuff that needs to be taught in film school. All of this amazing work the director did wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for Alice Birch’s screenplay. Birch is someone that viewers need to keep an eye on because she just gets it. Every beat that is written works, every snarky comeback lands and the shocks never stop.
Check out my rating for this film below and enjoy the trailer for Lady Macbeth:
What do you think of Lady Macbeth? If you’ve seen it or want to see it, let me know your feelings in the comments below.
The movie is playing in select theatres now; check your local movie times for more info. It debuts on Blu-Ray and DVD on August 21st.
Lady Macbeth stars Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie and Christopher Fairbank. The plot centers on a young woman stuck in a loveless marriage who seeks freedom by any means.