Ieuan Jones has reviewed Lady Macbeth, starring Florence Pugh, ahead of the screenings at PAC cinema. The film will be showing from Friday 26 – Thursday 31 May, tickets are available now.
The Lady Macbeth of the title is not the Shakespeare character, though there is plenty of that play’s mischief, malevolence and murder at work here, too. Adapted for the screen by Alice Birch, Nikolai Leskov’s novella ‘Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District’ is transported from nineteenth century Russia to the rural moors of the north of England in the same period.
“all the usual lashings of sex and scandal one would expect”
Katherine (Florence Pugh) has just married into a pit-owning family. In opening scenes that drip with hostility, it is made crystal clear that she is the family’s property, a baby-making machine for the family’s heir and there only to open her legs and shut her mouth. Curiously, considering her role, she is left alone most of the time while her husband Alexander (Paul Hilton) and father-in-law Boris (Christopher Fairbank) are away dealing with family affairs. In the isolation and boredom of the remote country, Katherine begins her darker purpose. Among the small pool of residents in and around the manor, including the stable boy Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) and housemaid Anna (Naomi Ackie), she knits a net of intrigue. This involves all the usual lashings of sex and scandal one would expect as her motives begin to twist and take shape.
The misdeeds of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth are easy enough to attribute to a single-minded lust for power. Katherine’s actions are more difficult to account for – there is a wildness to her that cannot be contained or so easily explained. The contrast between the plush surroundings and the menace in the foreground is effectively drawn. Director William Oldroyd (in his debut) also uses no music and every creak and squeak of the stately home seems amplified – the airy spaces and day-lit rooms become thick with tension before long.
Oldroyd has been noted here for using actors who aren’t white as major characters in the story and the opportunity to rethink what should and shouldn’t be included in a period piece should be commended. But Lady Macbeth would never be mistaken for an inclusive piece of rainbow theatre. The true face of nature red in tooth and claw is shown here, with humanity at its most malicious and Darwinian.
It is through the eyes of mute Anna that we are shown even a glimpse of sympathy, though we quickly learn the milk of human kindness is in short supply here. All the plaudits must eventually go to Pugh, however, the dark-eyed and cold-veined centre of this masterful anti-costume drama.
Ieuan Jones is a freelance writer living and working in Plymouth.