Adaptation Drama

'Lady Macbeth' Film Review: A dark and twisted tale of a woman pushed to her limits

October 2, 2017Ferdosa Abdi

A young woman named Katherine (Florence Pugh) is married off to an unloving, older man in Lady Macbeth, a film that explores themes concerning how women are expected to behave, with a story that follows this oppressed woman as she navigates a difficult home, an affair and societal expectations.

Whisked away to her new husband, Alexander’s (Paul Hilton), English countryside estate, Katherine finds herself subjected to demeaning and oppressive treatment from both him and her father-in-law, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), who expect her to be quiet, submissive and devoid of any personality. However, Katherine has a passionate spirit and a desire to be set free, qualities that are illustrated by her many attempts to let fresh air into the home or to sneak away for walks amidst the beautiful landscapes that surround her domestic prison.

The oppressive nature of Katherine's home is based on one thing — gender — as she's a woman living in a house belonging to two men who own her. But when they both leave, she becomes the master of the household and its servants. During these few weeks of freedom, she tastes what it is like to decide her own destiny — until she meets Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis). The two start a passionate affair that provides Katherine with everything she desires: freedom, copious amounts of sex, and a man who does not rule over her. However, as their relationship progresses, Katherine becomes extremely protective of Sebastian and, subsequently, her independence.

When Boris and Alexander re-enter the picture, they naturally don’t respond well to the affair. However, they also never imagined they would be returning home to a changed Katherine, who begins to assert her dominance via both passive and aggressive means. Most notably, she uses her position to punish Anna (Naomi Ackie), the black housemaid, for revealing her affair. Anna and Katherine are essentially both bought women, but since Katherine has the privilege of being white, it leaves Anna powerless to her whims. Katherine attacks Anna since she cannot directly fight Boris, so she uses her power to subject Anna, her inferior, to Boris' cruel behavior.

In adapting Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella, “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District,” screenwriter Alice Birch has crafted a script that brilliantly illustrates the inherent social structures of 19th-century Europe and the shifting power dynamics in the home. In turn, director William Oldroyd stages the actors to physically represent these dynamics and the tension between their characters, which are based on class, gender and race. The scenes between Anna, Katherine and Boris, in particular, showcase how both the script and the direction come together to communicate Katherine’s dilemma, as well as the established social norms that have allowed the situation to unfold.

As for the performances, they are fantastic across the board, and Pugh deserves recognition for convincingly portraying Katherine’s transition from a bored and obsessed wife to the giddy and dangerous Lady Macbeth. That said, this story could not have been told without the other actors in the cast — Ackie and Jarvis, especially — pushing each other as their characters do in the film. The result shows why the name Lady Macbeth has become synonymous with a woman who is power hungry and is willing to draw blood to get what she wants. Katherine becomes Lady Macbeth, but like her namesake, it does not end well for her or for those she manipulates.

D Films is releasing Lady Macbeth exclusively on iTunes on October 3rd, 2017. Bonus features include Behind the Scenes of Lady Macbeth (5:24), which provides insight into the characters, the story and the Durham, England setting, and a Photo Gallery (0:56), in which the cast and director showcase Lady Macbeth's best looks. The film has an MPAA rating of R for some disturbing violence, strong sexuality/nudity, and language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 29 min.

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