Film Review: Lady Macbeth (2017)

Who needs Shakespeare when you have William Oldroyd and Alice Birch to give us a chillingly excellent Lady Macbeth

“I’d rather stop you breathing than have you doubt how I feel”

Based on the book Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov, William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is a ferocious debut film and written by Alice Birch (no stranger to theatregoers but also making a feature debut here), it is a remarkably forward-thinking piece for that old hoary chestnut that is the British period drama.

Layering in intersectional notions of race and class, not shying away from domestic abuse and violence, it is probably safe to say it is unlike any other film you’ve seen that is set in 1865 England. Trapped into a stifling marriage with a disinterested man with a domineering father and a dour isolated estate in the North East, Katherine resolves not to let this be the sum total of her life.

So she drinks. And sleeps with the servants. Well, one in particular, Cosmo Jarvis’ Sebastian. And the freedom unleashed in her is not one that is easily put back once her husband returns from his lengthy travels. Florence Pugh does a sensational job in portraying the spirit of a young woman determined not to be hemmed in by convention but who also revels in the perverse pleasure of pushing way past where is deemed polite.

It’s hard to say too much more about the film that doesn’t spoil the deliciousness of what is within (I knew nothing of it beforehand and can recommend that, if you can). But it is full of ideas and thoughts that niggle away at you, innovations that make you wonder just why period dramas are still so white, suppositions that make you realise why the patriarchy (and indeed the class system) just won’t let go. An unusual delight.

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