The the cross, to the prison, to the grave, to the sky.

 

 

It’s easy to look at something pretty and get lulled into distraction. Period movies can come laced with just as much compromised morals as a hit HBO show, but we get distracted by lovely accents and comely corsets. In the same way, we might not realize what a person is capable of, since they carry themselves with an air of innocence.

Surely they can’t be capable of such misdeeds. Surely this can’t be a story of vicious selfishness.

Oh, honey…

LADY MACBETH is about Katherine (Florence Pugh). In late 1800’s England, she is bought and betrothed to Alexander (Paul Hilton). Their marriage will be a loveless one, cold and cruel. They live in the estate owned by Alexander’s father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), where Katherine is kept to a strict routine and forbidden from leaving the house.

The only person who seems to have any interest in Katherine’s well-being is her housemaid Anna (Naomi Ackie), but propriety prevents her from truly becoming an outlet for support.

One day, business matters call both Alexander and Boris away from the estate on extended leave. Left on her own, Katherine is free to move about her home. When she does, she happens upon Anna being teased and tormented by some of the groundskeepers. She scolds them all for wasting Alexander’s time and money, but as she does, a groomsman named Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) catches her eye.

Sebastian sees her walking about the grounds undeterred, and seems to catch a glimmer in her eye. Soon, he sneaks into her bedchamber and makes a sexual advance. Smitten by the affection and attention, Katherine takes the servant into her bed, finally getting some of the physical gratification her marriage has been lacking.

Soon though, her father-in-law returns – arriving, it would seem, fully aware of her dalliances with Sebastian. He beats the servant brutally, locks him away and forbids Katherine from having any further contact with him.

This forces Katherine to take control of the situation, and finally become the lady of the house. It is a position she will have to take again when her husband returns, and once more when another unexpected caller comes knocking.

The actions Katherine takes are bold, shocking, and sometimes vicious…enough to make the true Lady MacBeth proud.

 

Florence Pugh in LADY MACBETH

 

LADY MACBETH is an incredible look at one woman’s evolution when left in solitude. With her husband away for much of this movie, Katherine is left to learn about her new life on her own – with only Boris and Anna to tell her otherwise, in two very different manners. It’s less about how she sneaks around behind her husband’s back, and more about how she takes to the life her husband has brought her into.

Just certainly not in the way he’d planned.

There’s a shot that echoes several times within LADY MACBETH. It becomes so iconic that the image is even used as the movie’s poster. It is both striking and simple – Katherine, in one of her splendid dresses, sitting centre-frame on a fainter, looking right at the camera. What’s interesting is to see how her expression subtly changes from one instance to the next. Her mindset and demeanour are right there staring us in the face. Traces of calculation, intimidation, fear, and desire flicker in her eyes and linger on the corners of her mouth…but if we don’t pay attention, it just seems like she’s sitting down.

LADY MACBETH is all about paying attention to the details, so much so that the film plays without a score so that we can hear every last sound of this twisted tale. It wants us to understand how thunderous every tiny sound would be in a house like that. It wants us to feel the tension in every footstep down the hall, the discomfort of every clink of silverware. The sources of these sounds can speak volumes in a world where decorum dictates what cannot be said, so it must be said in less obvious ways. It can be said in where one’s hands are gathered as they stand, or their serenity as they pour a cup of tea.

Many of these subtleties are woven into Florence Pugh’s performance, which is nothing short of startling. This is a woman who we first glimpse in the shot above – doe-eyed under a wedding veil, and very much intimidated by the situation she’s being sold into. By the time the film ends, she is anything but doe-eyed. She becomes a woman fully in control of her situation, unconcerned what anyone thinks of her decisions of actions. On her wedding night, she is firmly put in her place; when her story ends, she dares those who know the truth to even try to put her in her place again. All of it is done with poise, calculation, and maturity beyond Pugh’s years.

LADY MACBETH wants us to walk away shaken and shocked. It wants us to be startled at just how far one person would go to get what they want. It wants us to feel a knot in our stomach and a lump in our throats at just how many lives can be thrown overboard in the name of one person’s happiness. However, as the titular character stares back at us when the film draws to a close, she dares us to truly be shocked. After all, here was a woman bred and bought in the name of one person’s happiness and legacy. Why should we be so surprised when she does something equally terrible in the name of her own happiness and legacy?

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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