Today: February 22, 2024

Lady Macbeth

Looking bleaker than a Dickensian abode Lady Macbeth, based on the novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov, is, unsurprisingly, a fairly harrowing watch. Not from a horror or violence point of view, although both aspects are at times touched upon, but in the way it unfolds with an almost nonchalant shrug at the gruelling events.

It starts with Katherine (Florence Pugh) marrying Alexander (Paul Hilton). Alexander is an absent, impotent husband who prefers to gaze upon the naked form of his young wife rather than engage her in sexual activity. Her father-in-law meanwhile is desperate for Katherine to provide his son with an heir to the estate and is quite happy to emotionally torture the young girl in the hope of scaring her pregnant.

So far so BBC Sunday night drama. And there are unquestionably aspects that do make Lady Macbeth feel as such. The visuals are typically overcast and dreary, the locations isolating and the characters, aside from Katherine, painted with broad strokes. At times the visuals feel flat, but the longer they go on the more their cold sensibility makes sense.

As the story unfolds, amid a slew of sex, betrayal, murder and double-crossing you realise this is very much a film of the new feminist wave. Alice Birch’s script brilliantly captures a sense of hopelessness in Katherine’s initial predicament, a lonely girl trapped in a loveless marriage rattling around a depressing pile of bricks. But, thanks in no small part to Pugh’s blistering performance, Lady Macbeth flips the conventions of a period drama on its head.

Suddenly those constricting bodices become empowering, if Katherine can endure the pain of being strapped in every morning and the indignity of a hostile, angry and limpless husband then why shouldn’t she roll around in the hay with one of the hired help? Why shouldn’t she stand proud and demand what is rightfully hers? And stand proud she does. The real coup is the lack of a Macbeth, who needs some paranoid want to be Scottish monarch when the woman opposite him is the real powerhouse?

While the film doesn’t always work and some of the major plot beats feel a little flat you never find yourself anything but rooting for our heroine. Even if she is gradually becoming a sociopathic, vengeful demon, or perhaps because of these things.

Carrying the venture on her young shoulders Florence Pugh is destined to become an actress of huge force. Indeed off the back of Lady Macbeth she already finds herself being cast alongside the likes of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Liam Neeson. As Katherine she captures a gradually and satisfying coming of age and darkness. At first this timid little thing looks like she couldn’t scare a mouse but gradually a conniving glint appears in her eye and with each conquest you feel Pugh is relishing the role more and more.

Dark, sometimes depressing but always blistering with an undercurrent of malevolence Lady Macbeth will drip poison into your glass before cheersing you with a seductive grin.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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