Review: Lady Macbeth reveals future star


RATING: Four stars (out of five)

DIRECTOR: William Oldroyd (feature debut)

STARRING: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomiu Ackie, Christopher Fairbank

VERDICT: A property condemned by amoral dilemma

DO not be deceived by that misleading title. There is nothing remotely Shakespearean about Lady Macbeth, a gruelingly austere, resolutely gripping period thriller.

There are times where Lady Chatterley might have been a more apt name for this erotically charged tale. However, there is much more going on here than merely a woman of means helping herself to the hired help.

It is the 1860s, and on a remote agricultural estate bordering the Northumberland Moors, Katherine (Florence Pugh) is just out of her teens and in one heck of a bind.

Her new middle-aged husband Alexander (Paul Hilton) wants nothing to do with her, inside or outside the bedroom. This poses a major problem, as Katherine is expected to bear a new line of heirs to the family fortune.

media_cameraFlorence Pugh is dressed for duress in the stunning Lady Macbeth. Picture: BBC Films

Her frumpy father-in-law, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), is always at the ready to remind this headstrong young woman of her obligations. By all means play lady of the house, he says, but Katherine is never to forget she was purchased (along with a parcel of nearby land) to fill the position.

Left to her own devices when Alexander takes off for parts unknown, Katherine takes up with a rough young stablehand (Cosmo Jarvis) living on the property, and impulsively installs him as the man of the house.

While the rest of the household staff watch on silently as wanton acts of adultery continue around the clock, word spreads like wildfire around the county about the salacious goings-on.

Boris is the first to head back to the mansion to investigate what is happening. Then Alexander decides he had better look into the matter too.

media_cameraThis is not the last creepy stare that Florence Pugh will be deploying with those death-ray eyes of hers in Lady Macbeth. Picture: BBC Films.

At this narrative flashpoint, the film — ethereally cryptic until now — finally shows its hand. Katherine has some devious and rather shocking ideas about how to deal with her dissatisfied spouse and his dad.

As provocative as it is defiantly stylised (there is no music score, and the dialogue is both spare and unsparing), Lady Macbeth is unafraid to address matters of race, gender and desire in a way that puts most dramas set in modern times to shame.

As for Pugh, this spellbinding debut in a leading role marks the arrival of a major acting talent.

Originally published as Review: Lady Macbeth reveals future star

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