Don’t think this is a Shakespeare based film despite the title. It is actually based on the short story Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Russian Nikolai Neskov. It was, however, inspired by the play.
This is no polite or refined costume drama. It has plenty of bite. It can be interpreted as a rather feminist view of the rights of women during this period. A young woman who has been controlled and mistreated by men yet manages to find freedom. On her own.
Lady Macbeth is also about class. How your status in life really dictates how your life will be lived. Men treat women like possessions or even subhuman. But through Katherine’s eyes we see that she sees that she has power over those even lower than her – the servants. Humans are shown to use those that are below them for their own benefit.
19th century rural England was not exactly a great place or time for women. Typical of the time, the young Katherine (Florence Pugh – The Falling) is sold into marriage. Her husband (Paul Hilton – Klimt, Wuthering Heights – 2011) is part of a wealthy but cold as ice family. She gets no affection from either her husband or father-in-law (Christopher Fairbank – Guardians of the Galaxy, Alien 3).
Once she realizes the dreary existence she is in for the rest of her life, unloved by her husband and isolated by the rural setting, Katherine gathers herself and finds love. Not a great love, rather one that ultimately leads to her destruction. The lady of the house finds herself falling under the spell of a young groomsman, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis – The Naughty Room).
They embark on a risky affair which sees Katherine risking everything to be with the man she loves. The man she will do anything for. A man who will eventually demonstrate himself not to possess her steely nature.
Not familiar with her previous work, I was totally taken aback by the young Florence Pugh. She totally owns this difficult role. Such a presence for a young actress The success of the film rests squarely on her shoulders and she bears the burden like a veteran. Every word that comes out of her mouth (there is not tons of dialogue) and each gesture says much. In the beginning we feel sorry for her and then have to switch to finding her immoral. A woman who gains some power and then begins to misuse it.
As grim as the grey skies and as cold as the hearts of the wealthy father-son. The pacing of the film is very British. Meaning that it is quite slow. I don’t mean that as a criticism either. It is actually quite perfect for the story. Director Michael Oldroyd (first feature film) keeps things creeping along, but always taut. The cinematography is great and Oldroyd’s decision not to use any music (quite unusual) really heightens the starkness and is oppressive in its silence.