Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth

Director: William Oldroyd
Running Time: 89 minutes


Florence Pugh is lethally charismatic in William Oldroyd’s daring journey into the darkest corners of the world of bonnets and bows

William Oldroyd’s fierce feature debut feels like Victorian noir, a twist on a genre probably invented by Shakespeare in the first place. It could well open up a dark new avenue in the bonnets-and-bows world of classic literary adaptation. His movie does an awful lot with a limited budget. It is smart, sexy, dour: qualities that are weaponised by a lethally charismatic lead performance from Florence Pugh as the eponymous, unrepentant killer. She is both sphinx and minx. “You have no idea of the damage you can cause,” her enraged father-in-law splutters at her. Actually, he’s the one with no idea.

Dramatist and screenwriter Alice Birch has adapted Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, itself of course inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Oldroyd’s new movie version, shot with clarity and verve by cinematographer Ari Wegner, retains all of this story’s subversive sexiness, making changes to the narrative, bringing in or rather drawing out themes of abuse, violence, race and class. Cleverly, it gives us enigmatic backstory hints that may or may not help explain the sudden direction change the film takes in its third act, leading to a denouement of toxic ingenuity. And of all it driven by the sensuality and rage of Pugh’s performance.

This Lady Macbeth is reminiscent of Pascale Ferran’s Lady Chatterley and Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, in which Paul Hilton played Mr Earnshaw. There are similar ways in which racial difference is rendered visible and turned into a new source of tension. The house itself is a potent character. We are not given a clear establishing shot of what it looks like from the outside, in the traditional style; we are just aware of its gloomy prison-like interior. You can almost feel the bone-chilling draught as you hear the incessant creak and squeak of floorboards, and doors opening and closing, like an empty church. It is a world without comfort, without upholstery, and a world in which movement is readily audible and easily monitored.

~~ Peter Bradshaw, theguardian.com