Lady Macbeth is not the usual British period drama. And with that title, one would expect some Shakespearean film adaptation. It’s not. It is adapted from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk district, a 1865 novella by Nikolai Leskov. The original Russian setting was transposed here to Victorian England. Florence Pugh plays Katherine, a young woman who finds herself at the wrong end of an arranged marriage. Her father married her to obtain a nice plot of land. Katherine’s husband is Alexander (Paul Hilton), a rich miner’s son. Both Boris (Christopher Fairbank), her father-in-law, and Alexander treat her horribly. She is not allowed to leave the house, and Boris constantly scolds her for not doing her wifely duties and bring him an heir. But the truth is that Alexander does not seem very interested in her. He demands that she undress and leaves her standing naked in the middle of the bedroom as he either goes back to bed, or masturbates while looking at her. They treat her worse than they treat their dogs. One day, Alexander and Boris are called away on business. For months he is left alone with the housemaid, Anna (Naomi Ackie). Katherine feels free. She can go outside and walk around freely. Then she starts a passionate affair with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), one of the workers on the farm. Then Boris comes back. He knows what happened and he beats Sebastian. That’s when Katherine kills Boris and starts a murder starts a murder spree that is quite stunning to watch. Stunning because it has rarely been done in that context, in those costumes and that repressive a society. It is minimalist for most of the film. Until the next burst of violence or sex throws all of our expectations out the window. A great pleasure comes from Florence Pugh’s ice-cold stares. She fits perfectly in the film’s mood and restraints. It’s certainly an unexpected surprise. Not for every one, for sure, but if you can stand it, I recommend it.
Based on the novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk district by Nikolai Leskov