VOD film review: Lady Macbeth
James R | On 23, Aug 2017
Director: William Oldroyd
Cast: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton
If you’ve seen Carol Morley’s The Falling, you’ll have come away with two questions. Firstly, why hasn’t everyone seen this? And secondly, what’s that amazing actress doing next? The actress in question? Florence Pugh. The answer? Lady Macbeth, a superb, intense chamber piece that announces her as Britain’s next big thing.
Based on the novella by Nikolai Leskov, the drama sees young bride Katherine hitched to the son of a mine owner and shackled to his isolated estate in Britain’s misty moors. When he’s called away on business, she’s alone and told never to leave the house – and so she rebels, stumbling into an affair with stable-boy Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis). Once that boundary has been pushed, though, the flighty bird refuses to go back in her cage, flouting social conventions and matrimonial duty in favour of earthy lust and breathy freedom.
The title hints at where things are headed, and Pugh doesn’t disappoint. Florence is phenomenal, delivering a mercurial performance that is utterly magnetic; even as she carries out increasingly immoral deeds, it’s impossible to look away when she’s on screen.
Her romantic chemistry with Sebastian and her hateful sparks with her husband are only topped by her fractious bond with watchful maid Anna (Naomi Ackie – another rising star to watch out for). It’s their silent distrust that fuels the gripping, uneasy tension, and theatre director William Oldroyd fills the space of his stage with an oppressive claustrophobia. It festers in every detail, from the costumed routines of having to dress and undress to fit her social role to the sound design, which pares everything back to near silence in the symmetrically composed interior shots. Outside of those four walls, though, winds rage, their natural power echoing the increasingly unkempt presence of Katherine, who takes her destiny into her own hands – hands that will drag her up to wuthering heights.
“You have no idea of the damage you can cause,” she is told at one point, but she knows only too well. As the film charts the intimate, quietly jaw-dropping evolution of a timid, tragic woman into a matriarchal force to be reckoned with, it’s impossible not to be aware too. By the end, your heart is in your mouth, as you perch on the edge of your seat to see what she’ll do next – this is a character-driven thriller to the last.
Alice Birch’s script is wordless at times, but weaves in complex themes of race and class into the surface story of abuse and sensuality, resulting in a heady cocktail of subversive, small-scale revenge. Florence Pugh downs it in one. It’s riveting to see.