Lady Macbeth, 2016.
Directed by William Oldroyd.
Starring Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, and Christopher Fairbank.
Lady Macbeth is an adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. It tells the plight of the young newlywed whose loveless marriage leads her into a forbidden and adulterous love affair with groomsman Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), and on down that most treacherous path of murder.
When the name Lady Macbeth is spoken, whose face is it that fills our minds? Is it Marion Cotillard, who became the latest incarnation of this most murderous of women in Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth only a few short years ago? A powerful performance, Cotillard leant her deep gaze to her Ladyship, the expressive eyes windows onto the manipulative and murderous malice that resides deep inside. Yet the French actress is cast into the shadows perhaps by two actresses, one American, the other English: Katey Sagal’s Gemma Teller in Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy and now Florence Pugh as the young newlywed Katherine in William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth.
The film is an announcement of the transformation of Pugh into a leading actress. While The Falling saw her impress in the shadow of the already established Maisie Williams, Lady Macbeth shows Pugh’s ability to carry a film. Alongside her roles in Morley’s 2014 film alongside television drama Marcella, where she played a young and wayward woman on the margins of society, her performance as Katherine establishes an actress capable of transformation. Unlike Jennifer Lawrence and other actresses that suffocate their characters, Pugh seemingly knows how to take a character gently in the palm of her hand, to nurture rather than to suffocate.
While director Oldroyd has experience on the stage, adapting works by Sartre, Beckett and Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth is the first step as a filmmaker into narrative features. It is difficult to not contemplate the film as a mix of youth and fresh perspectives. Oldroyd brings a perspective of storytelling nurtured through other mediums, but otherwise an inexperience in filmic storytelling outside of his shorts. Meanwhile Pugh is still in the formative years of her career, while director and actress work from a script by a first time screenwriter. Yet in spite of this, Lady Macbeth is an assured and accomplished piece of filmmaking. Pugh captures the vulnerability versus predatory nature of her character, all the while nurturing a responsive mix of sympathy and disgust from her audience. The interpretation of Birch’s script by the actors has an air of the melodic, the rigidity of social hierarchy of the 1860’s used to create a melodic rhythm in the verbal exchanges. The film represents a perfect marriage of script and performance, a calm that unfortunately escapes Katherine’s loveless and antagonistic marriage.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★