THE STORY – During a food shortage a survivalist lives off of a small plot of land in the forest. When two women show up looking for food and shelter, his existence is threatened.
THE CAST – Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie & Christopher Fairbank
THE TEAM – William Oldroyd (Director) & Alice Birch (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 89 Minutes
By Matt N.
Based on the novel “Lady Macbeth Of The Mtsensk District” by Nikolai Leskov, “Lady Macbeth” is a striking debut for both director William Oldroyd and the film’s star Florence Pugh. It’s an increasingly dark period drama with simmering tension and features a remarkable performance by Pugh in the lead role as Katherine, a destructive force of nature who destroys everything in her path for her own happiness and well-being. While a bit small scaled in terms of its minimalism, “Lady Macbeth” surprises as its story progresses and announces a new talent to the world.
Taking place in 19th Century rural England, Katherine (Florence Pugh) has been sold into a loveless marriage to a middle aged man named Alexander (Paul Hilton). Alexander and Katherine live on the estate of Alexander’s father Boris (Christopher Fairbank) who, like his son, treats Katherine with contempt and shows her no respect. Dissatisfied with her life, Katherine strikes up a love affair with one of the estates workers named Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis). While the two young lovers do everything they can to conceal their relationship from everyone else on the estate, their secret eventually lets out leaving Katherine with no choice but to take action to preserve her own happiness.
Florence Pugh is absolutely phenomenal as Katherine. Baring all both physically and emotionally, the character of Katherine is one which gives Pugh the opportunity to show us her range in her debut performance. She is vulnerable, strong and without mercy as her and Cosmo Jarvis both plot to run away from their confined lives of marriage and servitude. Christopher Fairbank is also a standout as Katherine’s husband’s father, Boris. Every one of Boris’ line readings sounds threatening and filled with malice towards Katherine. It’s easy to see why she would resort to the means which she does to break free of both him and her husband Alexander. The scenes which Katherine has with Boris & Alexander are tense at every moment as we can see the simmering tension boiling underneath the service of the young woman who was sold into this marriage/family against her will. She’s treated only as a sexual object and is not given the time of day by either Alexander or Boris. As her resentment and strength begin to grow, whether it be by outsmarting Alexander and Boris, or using the house servants such as Anna (Naomi Ackie) to her advantage, Katherine becomes a fascinating character by the time the credits roll, one who completely deserves the title of “Lady Macbeth.”
While the screenplay presents an interesting protagonist and she is played very well by Florence Pugh, director William Oldroyd still has to contend with the fact that “Lady Macbeth” is a small production. Though the landscape shots are gorgeous, most of “Lady Macbeth” takes place indoors with minimal set design. “Lady Macbeth” thus feels like its more of a personal story than an accessible one which many will be able to digest. This is totally fine and the film pulls it off very well but this also means Oldroyd’s film is not going to be for everyone. The film is just as striking as Katherine’s blue dress. It’s just as dangerous as the love affair that she starts with Sebastian. It’s just as dark and sexy as you could imagine. However, it also feels small and personal in its approach making it possibly hard to either relate to or be entertained by. It’s patient storytelling that does not overstay its welcome and features a breakout performance by Florence Pugh which will surely lead to her receiving more roles in the future.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Florence Pugh is one of the breakout stars of the year. The screenplay by Alice Birch goes in some unexpected directions.