Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: William Oldroyd
Cast: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie and Christopher Fairbank
In this adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s novella “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk, a 19th century young bride is sold into marriage to a middle-aged man.
Period dramas are usually a very comforting affair – witty monologues delivered by surprisingly feminist characters in well-fitted costumes. But Jane Austen aside, if Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Hills and the more recent A Quiet Passion proved the genre is very much alive and kicking, William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is a knockout.
It is not a complex story and not an original either – a young girl trapped in a loveless marriage to an older man – but Florence Pugh’s Katherine makes all the difference. Chillingly passionate, she exemplifies whatever they teach at screenwriting courses: always surprise your viewer.
She, young girl in mid-19th century England, does not hesitate to show the door to a priest or… kill her way out of the situation she was literally sold into.
She lives in a world of extremes and operates that way herself, there’s no middle ground nor compromise. When Katherine tells Sebastian she’d rather see him die than doubt her love nobody’s questioning it.
It’s also a (very perverse) coming of age story of an independent mind being forced into a prison of boredom which, it seems, is the worst kind for Katherine. She’s instructed not to go outside as the cold is ‘murderous’.
The more Katherine is pushed, the more she pushes back, not showing any remorse or compassion along the way. At the end, when everything unravels, she comes to a painful realisation she is still alone – not Sebastian nor anyone else can match her in her twisted ways. Was the blood-drenched path she treaded circumstantial or was that Katherine all along?
The best thing about Lady Macbeth is that the answer is left to the audience.
The script, an adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, also adapted by the late great Andrzej Wajda (Siberian Lady Macbeth, 1962), is the biggest strength of the film alongside the beautiful and talented Florence Pugh who delivers its nuances with chilling perfection.
The story is an inspiring departure from the period dramas we were used to and somehow reminds us of the issues still present in modern days. A knockout indeed.