Starring Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie, Christopher Fairbank,
Forget what you might know about Nikolai Leskov’s Macbeth story, because this not your grandfather’s adaptation. Director William Oldroyd puts a very “Game of Thrones” spin on the classic tale that doesn’t resemble the origin story. The title might drive audiences away, but horror fans or those looking for darker material than The Beguiled of My Cousin Rachel will rejoice in the 19th Century sex and violence portrayed here. Oldroyd’s radical interpretation isn’t afraid to test the audience comfort level, all in a brisk edit ending this thriller under 90 minutes. The performances by newcomers Pugh (The Falling) and musician turned actor Jarvis (MI-5) are two of the most impressive novices I have encountered in ages
Bought, along with a piece of land, Katherine (Pugh) prepares for wedding night rituals with her older, gangly looking husband. “Are you nervous,” her personal servant Anna (Ackie) inquires. “No”, replies the new lady of the house in all honesty. Alexander (Paul Hilton) isn’t interested in his new young wife. He commands her disrobe, face the fall, does what he needs to from across the room in a chair, then sleeps. Katherine’s father-in-law Boris (Fairbank) is worse, berating her for not fulfilling her “wife duties”. When the men of the house leave on a trip, Katherine discovers more than the brisk air from the outdoors she loves so much. Sebastian (Jarvis) is the newest hired hand, a sexual deviant and troublemaker who awakens something inside Katherine he will soon regret.
Oldroyd’s radical interpretation isn’t afraid to test the audience comfort level, all in a brisk edit ending this thriller under 90 minutes.
The first few minutes of the film are what you might expect, quiet, stuffy, and period. Scenes show Katherine falling asleep out of boredom, I feared the same from the film until Sebastian shows up. Oldroyd isn’t shy with female or male nudity here, the same with violence. There are many ways to look at what Katherine becomes, but I like to think of her as a problem solver. She is disrespected by the older men, which she tolerates, until she doesn’t. The production design is simple but effective, keeping the focus on the performance. Even the score is so miniscule so it doesn’t compete with Pugh’s intensity.
The screenplay serves up one shocking scene after another until these determined lovers reach a point where nothing will divide them. Lady Macbeth is the wickedly compelling drama, recent 19th Century female led flicks failed to become. Not having a major studio backing, release date, or Hollywood stars, means the boundaries can be pushed much further. Lady MacBeth isn’t a revenge thriller and certain audience will have an issue when they discover there is no typical protagonist in the story. This film takes subject matter that should be all too familiar, with countless remakes and various visions still managing to deliver an exceptional cinematic experience, which is quite rare during the summer blockbuster months.
An unpredictable thriller with two equally seductive, star making performances from Pugh and Jarvis.