If you were expecting an adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play Macbeth with a focus on the female lead then you’d be wrong. Lady Macbeth is actually an adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which is inspired by the Shakespearean character.
Lady Macbeth follows a young woman, Katherine (Florence Pugh), who is sold into a loveless marriage with a landowner in rural England during the 1860s. Whilst both her husband and the lord of the house are away she begins a whirlwind affair with a Groomsman, Sebastian. As you may guess given the association with Lady Macbeth this affair leads the characters to get embroiled in a murderous plot. From there the film becomes an incredibly dark exploration of just how far Katherine is willing to go.
But Lady Macbeth is more than just a dark drama. It’s an exploration of gender and class roles through the eye of this period piece. Katherine begins the film oppressed by her husband and his father, meek and withdrawn, but as gets embroiled in the affair and murders her confidence grows and she begins to express herself more, and stand up to those controlling her life. Sebastian starts the film as the one pushing the affair, but it quickly becomes Katherine who is the dominant party. This is all wonderfully played Florence Pugh in one of her first starring roles.
Similarly Sebastian, and maid Anna represent the differences in class. Naomi Ackie as Anna is, alongside Pugh, the stand out performer, particularly once her character is rendered mute after witnessing once of Katherine’s murders. In one of the memorable scenes she is literally treated like an animal by the master of the house for covering up Katherine and Sebastian drinking all of his wine. It is just one of many examples of the uncomfortable scenes of lower class or female oppression in the film.
What’s most impressive about Lady Macbeth is how much it manages to say with very minimal dialogue. Director William Oldroyd isn’t afraid of long scenes with virtually no dialogue and relies of the performances of his actors. Fortunately both Pugh and Ackie deliver, with Pugh perfectly capturing Katherine’s change from an oppressed wife to the confident leader of the household.
Lady Macbeth is not your conventional period drama. It’s dark, wonderfully written, and led by two excellent performances. If you’re looking for something different during the summer movie season, then Lady Macbeth isn’t a bad place to start.