Wow! What campy fun. But, also, what a treatise on class and all its indignities. See “Lady Macbeth” if titilating sex, narcissistic murder, and innovative feline punctuation marks fuel your curiosity.
Exquisite acting and the debut of the much touted Florence Pugh are other reasons not to miss this disturbing tale retold. There is no “hurly-burly” here except in the master-bedroom. Our source material not so much Shakespeare as the Russian novella, “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District”. This is an 1865 work by Nikolai Leskov. Other renditions on our villainous Katharine have been the 1962 film ” Siberian Lady Macbeth”, and the 1932 opera by Shostakovich. There is “no candlelight ballet of blood flow”, but there is lots of “to bed to bed”!
William Oldroyd as director is remarkable. The stifling control is palpable in the camera shots, held cage-like. Once the captured Katherine can open the door, the moors and the wild wind rustle her appetites. The film’s trailers are correct in ascribing a merger of Alfred Hitchcock and ” Wuthering Heights” to the film.
Screenwriter Alice Birch gives tyrannical power to the master of the house, Boris Lester ( Christopher Fairbank ) and to his son Alexander (Paul Hilton). Katherine has been sold at 17 by her father with a parcel of land. Her dispassioned husband is not interested in consummating the match. He already has a son who he has bequeathed his inheritance. Old Boris does not live long enough to be surprised. His explosive:” Resume your duties with more rigor, Madame!” are followed, but ironically with the stable boy. The cocksure Sebastian is even out of his league here. As stable boy,he will lose his life and that of their unborn child.
Katherine raises her chin like a shield as she is ignored, degraded and tyrannically told to stay inside. She has Anna, the housemaid, played beautifully by Naomi Ackie, forage for poison mushrooms. Anna, who also is attracted to the rough, take charge passion of Cosmo turns mute in her guilt. A conscience seems only to be possessed by the underclasses.
Enjoy Anna’s smoldering jealousy as she looks through the bedroom keyhole to keep a close eye on her competition. Likewise, Katherine’s cheeky come-backs to her father-in-law’s question, ” Where is your husband?” are smart. ” Where you put him!” rings in fury. He throws a plate at her and makes Anna crawl on the floor.
Katherine has learned from the Lester men. Her didactic “face the wall” and “stop smiling”, model her own past treatment. Now, with the masters gone, privilege wins out. Being “on the top of the heep” is what me lady wishes. Her soul long decomposed, she rises on its gaseous fumes.
Ari Wegner, the cinematographer, not only does a great job of capturing cat-catching poses:They are used as metaphors, asides, ironies, and just plain fun. Wide sweeps of heathered moors and wind-swept hair have us breathing a freedom that our murderer will sadly use only to her earthly benefit.
The young six-year-old Teddy’s demise is the most horiffic I have seen on camera. If you were making excuses for Katherine’s other sins, this scene yanks you back to my lady as devil.
Much else is gruesome, but not to the point of this
shock: poor Teddy and his clueless grandmother Grace, lover Sebastian ( Cosmo Jarvis), maid Anna ~ all betrayed or done in. But husband, his horse, and father-in-law came first. ” Does evil breed evil?”, seems to be the theme here. There is more than beautiful camera symmetry to this film. “How can someone so hot-blooded be so cold-blooded?”, may be the ultimate question. Pure malevolence in 1865 Northumberland is a brazen treat.