Dir: William Oldroyd
15, 89 mins
2016 was the pointless “celebration” of the Bard’s death 400 years ago. Although we always celebrate Shakespeare, any varying interpretation of his work is a welcome retreat from the mainstream i.e. school trips and bog standard am dram.
This version of the character of Lady Macbeth, is seen through Russian goggles, via the novel by Nikolai Leskov from 1865. It’s shocking content would be more infamous in the operatic version by Shostakovich, the work which Stalin walked out of in disgust. This film version brings the setting back and we now settle into northern England (close enough) for a Victorian shocker.
In recent years, audiences has been faced with cinematic period dramas which feature nauseating, hand held cameras, natural lighting and other severe elements of Mise-en-scène. There are moments of abstract beauty here, as even a lingering shot of mist on a moor, feels like a Rothko painting made real. The film version of the musical Les Misérables is a famous example of this, including unrelenting close ups of the characters. Has the Scandinavian influence Dogme 95 only in the past few years been plucked from obscurity and is now the mainstream? This is what we see in Lady Macbeth and it gives the film a clear, even white sheen.
Here, our Lady is Katherine and remains a jolting performance by Florence Pugh, who has the most remarkable rest face I’ve yet to see. As an audience member, you develop various emotions for here, though this quickly delves into revulsion and horror from her actions. She never has to justify herself in her wickedness, such is her simply enjoyment of manipulation and the misery of others. Her relationship with her husband Alexander (played here by a telling Paul Hilton) consists of failed sex attempts and later, his eventual demise.
During his long absence, her affair with Sebastian (a wonderful Cosmo Jarvis) is both steamy and heartfelt…of sorts. Boris (a repellant Christopher Fairbank), Alexander’s horrible mine owner father also gets what he deserves via a serving of poison mushrooms. Our hearts go out to poor maid Anna, played by Naomi Ackie, who gets into all sorts of unwanted trouble and sadly like Sebastian, has to pay the unjust price for it. By this point, we are truly sickened by this Lady Macbeth.
An outstanding moment (there are a handful) is when Alexander returns and tells Katherine he knows of her infidelity. His vulgar language and sharp remarks, move her so much that she retrieves Sebastian from a cupboard and she prepares to have sex once again with him. With Alexander’s fury, the scene ends in a horrible way, the plot thickens and so does our Lady’s twisted mind.
With the striking execution of Oldroyd’s film, we are sucked into a story and a house we never see any sweeping exteriors shots of. The claustrophobia, only ever adds to the development Katherine’s nasty personality. Even with an ending like this, you just feel she will dot hinges like this again and again, forever torturing and playing anyone who comes here way.
A vicious debut, strikingly executed.
Rating: 4 stars
Lady Macbeth is now playing at selected UK cinemas.
Welsh National Opera’s autumn season is a celebration of all things Russian. Marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution, they stage Eugene Onegin, Khovanshchina and From the House of the Dead, as well as other events.
Film Still: The Independent
Click here for the next Sprout Editorial Group meeting.
It’s free and quick to comment below but we recommend signing up with your email or as a guest to keep usernames Sprouty and anonymous (and never post personal details!).
If you want more info on staying safe online, check out our online safety section.