Lady Macbeth

Year: 2016
Production Co: Sixty Six Pictures
Director: William Oldroyd
Writer: Alice Birch
Cast: Florence Pugh, Cosmos Jarvis

There's very little to say about this movie other than the fact that it's a very well dressed and very well staged costume drama about a woman who discovers she'll stop at nothing to get what she wants, not even seeing the line when she crosses it.

A good portion of the running time deals with Katherine (Florence Pugh), a young bride in an arranged marriage to a rural merchant, going through the motions of daily life in the stuffy social mores and daily strictures of the 19th century, and many will find it a slog.

Despite being a beautiful young woman her husband ins't the least interested in her. He leaves for weeks on end on business while she rattles around the grand house with only the staff and her menacing father in law for company. When he is home he orders her to strip naked and stand across the room while he masturbates himself in a chair like she's an erotic painting, as if the idea of touching her repulses him.

Left to her own devices, bored and growing impatient, she embarks on an affair with a gruff stablehand, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis). It was a development that reminded me of Wuthering Heights – despite its reputation as being a love story for the ages Catherine and Heathcliff seemed perpetually hateful of each other when I read it. Likewise, Sebastian is a threatening and filthy peasant and the first time they come together it's almost a sexual attack I had a hard time believing would lead to a lustful affair.

But soon they're rutting like animals all over the house, her heart awoken to what life could be like, and to maintain it they have to plot and act against various members of the household to keep their secret, everything from hiding in closets to murder.

The gorgeous Pugh is endlessly watchable, but owing to the seemingly-authentic period detail) it's fairly flat on screen, director William Oldroyd opting for camera angles, colouring and staging that are as dispassionate and stifled as the social mores of the day.

There are a few flashes of tactile sensuality (not just in Pugh's several nude and sex scenes, but shots of her walking through the desolate local landscape, her lustrous hair blowing in the wind), but a little more heat in the storytelling might have helped. At the very least it might have helped convey the burgeoning passion in Katherine's life not just for her affair but the drive to go after what she wants, but its patently obvious that's not the movie Oldroyd set out to make, which is fine.

If you want to look deep enough it says something about the way society right up to the modern era has always treated women (and continues to in many ways), but in doing so you might also have to concede that it's a story about how corruptible the human soul is in the face of the power of its own ambitions. Or you can just enjoy the lushness of the costuming and set dressing and enjoy it as an effective enough olden-days potboiler.

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