There won’t be a film more diametrically opposed to Marvel’s enormous and colourful fanfare for Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 this week than, director William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth. Where as, GOTG2 is big, bright, colourful and breezy, Lady Macbeth is grim, foreboding and dripping with an increasingly oppressive intensity. That isn’t to do either film down. GOTG2 is terrific fun and Lady Macbeth is a staggering piece of work.
Based on a 19th century, lurid Russian novel, screenwriter Alice Birch shifts the story to the Northeast of England during the second industrial revolution. It follows a young woman Katherine, (Florence Pugh) who is forced into a loveless, stifling marriage for money to a drunk, inadequate son (Paul Hilton) and his puritanical, industrialist father (Chris Fairbank). Katherine becomes bored with her absent husband and overbearing father-in-law and begins a dangerous affair with a groomsman, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis).
Oldroyd, along with cinematographer Ari Wegner carve incredible beauty out of the bleak surroundings. When we venture out of the cavernous, cold, dark house we are assaulted by windswept moors and deathly quiet woods. All with increasingly grey clouds overhead, foreshadowing the grim morbid events to come. Its ruggedness conveying the raw passions between Katherine and Sebastian.
The way in which Oldroyd dares to tell the story as much through the silences and awkward pauses as with dialogue. This is a visual art form, you don’t always need a thousand words a minute to tell a story.
Pugh is a hypnotic presence at the centre of proceedings. In many ways, you feel she would be worthy of playing the character that the title of this film is named after. Katherine is more than a match for any man who attempts to browbeat her and Pugh is a powerful performer to deliver a deserving manifestation of the character which will have you sympathising with and repulsed by her in equal measure.
Fairbank provides a tremendous hate figure as the miserly, sexist, bible-thumping puritan father, Boris. At times, he resembles a nauseating sneer in human form. Treating everybody like they are nothing more than property, including his own son.
The star though is Naomi Ackie as Anna, a browbeaten maid. The manner in which she is able to convey waves of emotion with very little dialogue is jaw-dropping. The way she masters such subtleties of her facial ticks, and darting her longing eyes around the room broke my heart.
This isn’t an easy watch, especially when events take a truly harrowing turn in the last third of the film but it carries a brooding intensity and electricity that makes for compelling viewing.