Director: William Oldroyd
Runtime: 90 minutes
Disregard the tight, binding corsets and the crinolines, the gloomy Victorian setting that echoes the works of the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy. William Oldroyd’s minimal story of a woman’s climb to dominance is as old as the ages,and as new as anything coming out of the sexual revolution and Women’s Lib. Inspired on the character created by William Shakespeare and based on the novella Lady Macbeth of Miensk District, Lady Macbeth tells the story of Katherine (Florence Pugh), a young woman who has been bought into marriage to a ill-tempered asshole of a man, Alexander Lester (Paul Hilton). Lester takes her to reside at his father’s estate, where from the word go, they make it known she will have no more presence than a mute wife, keeping house, and nothing more. The first night she spends at the Lester house is as chilling as anything, and ends with a note of uncertainty, and the following scene, where she sits in dead silence, staring at nothing, awaiting Lester’s and Boris’ arrival, is as tense and uncomfortable as anything that comes later.
When Boris and Lester leave the estate to take care of some business, Katherine is left on her own in the house. and stumbles onto a scene in a barn. Several men, workers, are having a little sexual fun with some of the maids. One of the men, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) catches her attention, and she makes a point to get close to him. It’s clear there is an attraction between the two, and it doesn’t take long for Sebastian to make his way into her room in a scene that starts as an invasion of privacy teetering on rape and ends with her taking charge in the long run, having him over, seeing him every chance she gets. Anna, the maid she saw in a tryst with Sebastian, disapproves, and takes matters into her own hands to notify the priest of what is happening. Her actions eventually reach Lester and Boris, who returns to the house and confronts Katherine. What happens next is something I won’t say, because it is contingent to the transformation that Katherine receives as she begins to assert her power and cross the line from proto-feminist to monster.
If there ever was a movie that relied only on a mounting sense of dread to announce in hints of the violence that is to come, it would be Lady Macbeth, a movie filled with moments of silence, glances, and a minimal story line that moves, with deliberate fury, to its horrifying conclusion. Florence Pugh is a lightning bolt, igniting an entire film on her presence alone — in her physicality is the symbol for the triumph of ambition and drive taken to its extremes (and reader, I really do mean extremes). The movie almost always has her in blue, which is a color associated with masculine strength, and this exactly personifies the type of woman she is — one who negates her femininity, her passivity, and goes for the jugular. You might say the movie takes a step too far in the last third, but this is a story named after one of Shakespeare’s darkest female characters, after all. You will not find Austen’s females anywhere here