Not a beautiful situation but a beautiful film.
Director: William Oldroyd
Screenplay: Nikolai Leskov (based on novella of Mtsensk), Alice Birch
Cast: Florence Pugh (The Falling), Cosmo Jarvis (The Naughty Room)
Runtime: 1 hr 29 min
by John DeSando
Looking at the title, you might think director William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is about revenge, lust, murder, and boredom, and you would be right on all counts. Katherine (Florence Pugh), a 19th century teen bride of an arranged marriage to a middle-aged drunk, can’t get no satisfaction. Her husband is impotent for starters, and the estate is so forbidding murder would seem to be a required pastime.
Yet, sex is the prime mover here, where she discovers randy groomsman Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), and takes him to bed in the long absence of her hubby. Meek black Anna (Naomi Ackie), Katherine’s servant, observes the shenanigans, much as we do, unable to change what she sees will be an outcome unpleasant to the core. To the end Anna is faithful to Katherine, a slave to a mistress who is herself a slave to men and convention.
Several archetypal themes arise in this somber, artfully-photographed drama. For instance, one that emphasizes the wages of sin is prominent; another about the subjugated rising against the oppressor; and another about the danger of socially imprisoning smart women in a paternalistic society. A leitmotif also surfaces about the dangers of debilitating class distinctions, which are never a good thing in the long haul.
Ari Wegner’s cinematography is portrait-like if considering only the recurring shot of Katherine sitting on her Victorian couch in a consuming dress that seems to deteriorate with each similar shot. Underneath the dress is the corset, so long a symbol of the era’s tight hold on women.
Remembering Amma Asante’s Belle, I’m pleased to see another art- film treatment of fraught race relations in merry ol’ England. That none of this will ever stop is promised in the spawn of the miscreants, children of evil destined to repeat their parents’ sins.
Lady Macbeth is an interesting minimalist story of a smothered young woman, whose intensity will lay waste to the social fabric of the estate. In fact, much of the proceedings are Shakespearean with their emphasis on man’s weakness in his dominance, a woman’s Eve-like ability to lure men into sin, and the pride that inevitably leads to a fall.
Depressing but dramatically satisfying.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com