Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Lady Macbeth Reviewed

Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Lady Macbeth Reviewed

Article excerpt

Lady Macbeth, which has nothing to do with boring old Shakespeare beyond indicating a certain archetype (huge sighs of relief all round), is a British period drama about a young woman who, trapped in a cold, loveless marriage, finds sexual passion elsewhere, and runs with it. And runs with it. And runs with it. And if you think you've seen this all before -- Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Lady Chatterley, etc. -- think again, my friend. In fact, if Madame Bovary were here with us right now, along with Anna and Lady Chatterley and all the other women in literature who've been punished for veering off message, my best guess is they'd be fist-pumping the air while crying: 'You go, girl, you go!' (Or similar.) This circumvents all our expectations, plays like a thriller, ditches bonnets for more murderous pursuits, and is plain terrific. Bit of a long intro, I can now see. Just remember: 'Plain terrific.'

Directed by William Oldroyd (formerly director in residence at the Young Vic Theatre) with a script by Alice Birch (a playwright with work performed at the Royal Court and RSC), the film is based on Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, the 1865 novella by Nikolai Leskov first published in Dostoevsky's magazine, Epoch. (I know this stuff: I didn't just look it up on Wikipedia.) Here, the action stays in Victorian times but has been transposed from the Mtsensk district, wherever in Russia that is, to Northumberland, I think -- the exact region is never specified, but I noted some Geordie in the air -- and Katerina has become Katherine. She is played by relative newcomer, Florence Pugh, who is truly remarkable; who must convince us that sweet innocence can warp into a mad, destructive, unrepentant lust, and does it, in spades.

The film opens on Katherine's wedding day, when she's being married off to an older man (Paul Hilton) who lives with his father (Christopher Fairbank). She is chattel, having been bought by the father 'along with a piece of land not fit enough to graze a cow on'. Their house is grand but remote and chilly. Katherine must stay in this house at all times. Katherine is bored to the point of stupefaction. Katherine is obliged to wear constricting corsets. …

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