William Oldroyd’s film, which premiered last year at TIFF but wasn’t released theatrically until this year, is based on a Russian novella from the 1800s. The film stars Florence Pugh as Katherine, a 19th century woman who is sold into a loveless marriage with a much older, sexually and emotionally detached man. The film, in short, is utterly brilliant.
Lady Macbeth is Florence Pugh’s second film credit, the first being The Falling, a strange girls’ school thriller from Carol Morley. Pugh is absolutely brilliant as the central character in the film, she is simultaneously charismatic and terrifying. Her performance is a huge factor in what makes the film so brilliantly harrowing as she is utterly sympathetic through her suffering in the misogynistic rituals of 19th century society yet also repulsive through her heartless and lethal actions. Pugh’s performance feels effortless and it is dazzling to watch her on-screen.
The film is stunningly shot, with gorgeous and head-spinning cinematography combined with brutal and thrilling editing to propel the brilliant narrative. The dialogue is sparse and blunt, which at first seems irritating but soon fits well into the eerie atmosphere of the film. Lady Macbeth doesn’t wait to hit you with uncomfortable – and at times stomach-turning – sexual scenes, yet none of them feel unnecessary as Florence Pugh’s characterisation of Katherine becomes apposite in these particular sequences.
The message of the film is stunningly relevant. With Katherine’s inexhaustible rage at the patriarchal confines placed on her at the heart of this revenge tale, we can apply its message to today’s society. Just how the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has used its themes of fertility and women’s rights to send a message regarding Trump’s America and the laws against abortion in a dystopian setting, Lady Macbeth uses period drama to create a stimulating message regarding marital imbalance and sexual exploitation of women.
The film is thoroughly harrowing and thrilling and its execution and direction is simple, creating an even more frightening experience. Filmed beautifully and performed perfectly, Lady Macbeth is an undeniable must-see for anyone who loves film.
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