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Period drama adapted from Nikolai Leskov's novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Directed by Sundance Grand Jury Prize-nominee William Oldroyd.
"Lady Katherine (Florence Pugh) is a young misfit in the stifling social atmosphere of Victorian England. Locked in a marriage of convenience to a much older man, marooned on an estate amidst the northern heaths of County Durham, Katherine strains against the social mores of the time. Lectured at by the local priest, tormented by a father-in-law who expects her to provide an heir, she paces her constrictive world like a wild animal looking for escape. She soon finds an outlet for her passions in Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a young groom who is one of her husband's many servants. Those passions could be their undoing." (Toronto International Film Festival)
- William Oldroyd(feature debut)
- Alice Birch (based on the novel 'Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District' by Nikolai Leskov)
Drama, Festival & Independent
Rating: R16 Violence, offensive language & sex scenes
Adapted from the 1865 novella by Russian author Nikolai Leskov, but transplanted to the UK’s bleak Northumberland moors, William Oldroyd's debut plays out like a Victorian Handmaid's Tale. The first scene shows young Katherine (Florence Pugh) married off to local landowner Alexander (Paul Hilton), her face completely wrapped in a wedding veil that looks more like a shroud.
In preparation for the wedding night, she’s treated like a doll, brushed and primped by her servant Anna (Naomi Acka). In the spooky bedroom scenes that follow she’s treated like livestock – her sole purpose to produce an heir, although Alexander seems keener to humiliate than impregnate her. Life is even harder for the servants (read: slaves), especially Anna who has the misfortune of being poor, black and female in an age that despises all three. When the master and his wicked father (Christopher Fairbank) are away, Katherine begins a violent affair with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a black stable hand – an unthinkable prospect in “polite” society – and the stage is set for scandal, and worse.
Amid a flawless cast, Pugh excels in only her second film role, bringing an imperial impishness to the much-abused Katherine. Meanwhile, what might have been a pursed-lip drama of disapproval offers fire and black humour, as we cut from hot sex in the bedroom to hot tea in the drawing room. Although the longing between Katherine and Sebastian doesn’t quite reach the wuthering heights promised, Alice Birch’s script is stripped to the bone, and Oldroyd’s elegant, near-static compositions make the narrative outrages all the more chilling. Utterly gripping.
The Guardian (UK)
Total Film (UK)
Stuff.co.nz (James Croot)
Low budget, high achievements.
This is the first feature film from director William Oldroyd, a riveting period drama / film noir that keeps you wanting more.
Florence Pugh brilliantly plays the title character, Katherine, that we see evolve in many ways as the film advances. Starting as a victim of her circumstances , it isn't long before she takes control of her situation ... no matter what it requires.
It is a smart, chilling, and gripping movie that does not rely on any musical score, on fancy camera work or on dialogue to take hold of the audience, but rather rely on its clever use of location, its sustained tense and gripping storytelling, and its remarkable performances.
Seeing Florence Pugh in this role felt like seeing the birth of an acting star ... a bit like seeing Jennifer Lawrence's performance in Winter's Bone: impressive.
Not alot of dialogue
There isnt a vast amount of dialogue which will usually bores me without that level of interaction and is partly why I rate this a 3 star. Lead actress is very good and plot is ok but you lack a sense of connection to it and its all a bit dour and grim. Wouldnt be one to rush to
Lady M's subtle arthouse meditation
Adapted not from Shakespeare’s Scottish play, but from Nikolai Leskov’s Russian novel, William Oldroyd’s understated, glacially paced, atmospheric, minimalist masterpiece takes a long, cold, hard look at the patriarchal subjugation of women. In 19th Century rural England, Katherine (Florence Pugh) is sold to a bullying, middle-aged man. Finding an outlet for her repressed passion with a stable hand (Cosmo Jarvis), Katherine slowly evolves from victim to perpetrator.
No one is innocent in this subtly acted, artful meditation on feminism, sex, power and the ugly side of human desire… though avoid if slow, poetic, art-house fare ain’t your thing.
Nothing to do with Shakespeare's play but a tragedy of circumstances and miscalculation.
Katherine acts to escape her circumstances and one action leads to another.
Shot on a limited set of locations with a smallish cast and high production values. It feels like a play. There are a couple of weak plot points to be glossed over but overall while the pace is slow the action, when it happens, often packs a punch.
a shallow darkly Gothic tale with Shakespearean pretensions
It is usually a fail-proof formula for British filmmakers: gorgeous 19th century costumes, lavishly detailed period sets, and an angel-faced murderess who eliminates her oppressors. The film Lady Macbeth (2017) has the right ingredients but the whole barely rises above its parts. Apart from its classic title, this darkly Gothic adaptation of an 1865 Russian novel has no connection and bears no resemblance to the works of Shakespeare.
Like many literary works from this era, the storyline is linear and predictable. Teenage bride Katherine (Florence Pugh) was sold to an older man and is now trapped in an oppressive and loveless marriage. Dominated by both her husband Alexander and live-in father-in-law Boris, Katherine is forbidden to go outside the house and must exist as an adornment, reading her bible and tolerating abuse. When the men go away for a few days, Katherine experiences such simple freedoms as walking in a field on a sunny day. She encounters a brash young farm hand Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) who later forces his way into her bedroom and they become lovers. All of Katherine’s senses are ignited and she is determined to rebel against her wardens. Her affair becomes known and one by one she coolly despatches her tormentors. When she is accused of murder she frames Sebastian and the story concludes with evil triumphant.
This is a visually well-crafted period drama but not one of its characters is more than a two-dimensional caricature. Although beautifully photographed, the characters are devoid of inner beauty. Stilted performance style and minimalist dialogue may work well as a stage-play but it struggles to translate comfortably to the modern screen. Silence is used to heighten tension but it mostly amplifies the emptiness of Katherine’s life and the shallowness of the narrative. For example, the reasons for her mistreatment are left unexplored, and her apparently limitless capacity for cold-blooded criminality left unquestioned. While the normally expressive Florence Pugh gives a mostly convincing performance, at times she appears bored and emotionless and even in the lovemaking scenes conveys an air of wishing she was acting in a different film. As the 19th century was not known as one of feminist sensitivity, the original play most likely was a study of an evil woman’s potential to disrupt the social order. In the modern era, the issue of female empowerment is more nuanced and intelligent than we see explored in this film.
It may be that applying modern cinematic expectations to a Russian classic is unfair. When it was first performed in Moscow, legend has it that Stalin stormed out and condemned the work for “tickling the perverted taste of the bourgeoisie”. The very of thought of a woman taking control of her life through multiple killings must have terrified the power elite. In that context, Lady Macbeth may be a solid work. But serious drama today expects more depth of characterisation and complexity of narrative interpretation. On these measures the film tends to underwhelm.