Directed by William Oldroyd. UK. 2016. R. 89 minutes. Roadside Attractions. Digital.
Mon., August 14, 2017 thru Thu., August 24, 2017
“What a searing, jarring film Lady Macbeth is — I left feeling a little shaken.
Florence Pugh plays Katherine, a young woman married off to a man who seems to have nothing but disgust for her. On their wedding night, he orders her to disrobe, looks at her, then turns over and goes to sleep. Katherine and her husband live with his father, and both men are severe to the extreme with Katherine, forcing her to stay indoors and submitting her to extreme boredom.
But Katherine is a rebel to the core, and her husband’s and father-in-law’s cruelty sets a match to a big pile of kindling that’s been inside her all along. When they both leave town, she strikes up a passionate affair with the new groomsman, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis). And when her father-in-law returns and finds out about the affair, she coolly gets rid of him.
The remarkable thing about Lady Macbeth, which was adapted by Alice Birch from a novella by Nikolai Leskov, is that it refuses to allow the audience to have the emotional reactions we want to have. We want to root for Katherine, but then she turns around and acts cruelly to her servants. We want to be on Katherine and Sebastian’s side, willing them toward happiness, but as the movie wears on, that desire sours until it bursts into startling, destructive flame.
It becomes clear that Katherine is either something of a psychopath or a sociopath — or, at least, so bent on having her way that the other humans around her stop having meaning and dignity on their own. But there’s an element of revenge fantasy, too, in how she eliminates everyone who gets in her way. If you can adjust to the idea that you’re not meant to sympathize with anyone, Lady Macbeth is quite a film.
Each frame of the film is gorgeously shot, almost painterly in how it renders the drab home, the wild moors, and Katherine’s luminous beauty. The shots are so still and quiet that we grow nervous. Something’s got to give, and when it does — whew. It’s visceral.
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