Like A Quiet Passion, Lady Macbeth shows the anguish of a 19th century woman who has no choice and control in her life, but with a much bloodier and more satisfying resolution.
Katherine (Florence Pugh) is married to an older man as part of a sale of land between her father and his. Her husband, Alexander (Paul Hilton), and father-in-law, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), treat her as a piece of chattel, forbidding her to venture outside the house where she whiles away countless hours of boredom. Her husband is not interested in her, either intellectually or sexually, and her only pleasure is to escape the house when the men are away and wander the moors.
Katherine’s maid, Anna (Naomi Ackie), is her only human contact although there is no friendship there. To live under such oppression means both women are afraid of showing trust and Katherine suspects Anna of spying on her. When Katherine finds a group of farm workers assaulting Anna, she saves her and uses her authority to castigate the men. The target of her anger is the ringleader, groom Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), and her pleasure in dominating him leads them into an affair.
The cinematography and use of colour in Lady MacBeth is exquisite. The browns and blues and greys of the hose and countryside are contrasted with the deep blue of Katherine’s elaborate gown. There is barely a musical score, which enhances the silence and emptiness of such a life. There are many scenes where Katherine is dead centre of the frame, the symmetry emphasising the stultifying inertia of her world. Whenever we see her like this, it is a moment where she is quietly drawing on her strength of will. And strength of will she has, to devastating effect.
Florence Pugh, a relative newcomer, is excellent in the role of Katherine. I found it hard not to like her and identify with her actions, even though, when you really think about it, she is no heroine. Her ability to show both icy composure and immature willfulness convincingly builds a character that is genuinely frightening.
The ending is an interesting one and reiterates the symmetry we see throughout. I was left wondering what would happen next. Does Katherine achieve what she wants and is this any more liberating than her previous ‘choices’?
Have you seen this film? Let me know what you thought in the comments below.