Film Reviews


By • Aug 3rd, 2017 •

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Another delicious repressed femme fatale. Erotically exploits the young woman archetype who only wants to satisfy her desires – the hell with the consequences.

Based on a 1865 classic Russian novel, Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, director William Oldroyd’s film adaptation brings young femme fatale Katherine into 19th century England.

Set in 1865 in dreary, dark, and isolated Northumberland in northeast England, virgin Katherine’s (Florence Pugh) story begins on her wedding day. Apparently without social standing, Katherine has been given in marriage to a man twice her age, Alexander (Paul Hilton). There has been no courtship. She is told by Alexander’s brute of a father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), that her only purpose is to give Alexander an heir – or heirs.

How can she when Alexander cannot consummate the marriage?

Without forewarning, Alexander goes off for business leaving Katherine with her maid, Anna (Naomi Ackie) and her vile father-in-law. Boris’s face screams cruelty. What kind of life has he had building wealth? Boris tells Katherine she is not allowed out of the house. Katherine is very young, impulsive and bored. She wants out. She wants to go out as well.

Regardless of her stern warning, she wanders around the land. Katherine finds the farmhands savagely attacking Anna. One of the farmhands, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), young, dirty and arrogant can smell the scent of excitement Katherine feels discovering the rape scene. The next time Sebastian sees Katherine wandering around the edge of the property, he approaches her in a crude but sexually charged way. The excitement of an illicit affair, his animalistic appeal, and her frustrated sexual drive, easily makes Katherine a willing – albeit reckless – adulterer.

At first sneaking Sebastian into her bed, Katherine soon flaunts her lover to Anna. Alexander seems to never be coming back. When Boris confronts Katherine telling her she has shamed the family name and the entire village knows about the affair, Katherine and Sebastian plot to rid themselves of returning Alexander. What to do about meddling Boris?

Katherine has no redeeming qualities but we are manipulated into sympathizing with her. Boris is a mean, old bastard and Alexander cannot have sex with her. He is not very nice. Ignoring her pre-marriage situation and the morality of the times, Katherine’s youth only sees her enforced captivity as a crucible. While Alexander may be a dysfunctional, neglectful husband, her revenge is a penniless lover.

In the time LADY MACBETH is set, Katherine would be considered quite lucky to have been chosen by wealthy Alexander. She has a maid instead of being the maid.

But desire is hard to corral and Sebastian has awakened her sexuality.

When Alexander suddenly appears and then disappears, Boris suspects what has happened to his son. As time passes and Alexander’s demise is a fait accompli, Katherine is boldly pregnant, Sebastian is now established in the household, and a new complication arises to disrupt the lover’s plans for the future.

It never seems that Katherine is hopelessly and madly in love with Sebastian. Unlike doomed heroine Anna Karenina, she’s just terribly bored and Oldroyd often sets her sitting on a sofa staring into emptiness in beautiful dresses.

Not in the Buddhist understanding of “emptiness”, which is: “all phenomena in their own-being are empty.”

Katherine is not challenging the state of women, she is just without anything to do. Katherine is not making a feminist stand. She just lacks the imagination to keep herself busy.

LADY MACBETH is Pugh’s first starring role and she is perfect as the selfish, willful Katherine. LADY MACBETH will establish the talent of Pugh and Oldroyd. This is also Oldroyd’s feature film directorial debut. Setting the camera squarely on Pugh’s immobile face, Oldroyd forces us to give thoughts to her stillness. Oldroyd shows he is a strong director of women and it is a skill that will make him invaluable to Hollywood actresses. He shows his love and curiosity for his subject in the way he presents Kathrine. Cleverly making use of a very small budget, Oldroyd takes advantage of it, allowing the bare spaces to acknowledge the life Katherine has before her.

However, thanks to costume designer Holly Waddington, Katherine’s dresses are amazing.

LADY MACBETH is part of this archaic “Biblical fear of a sexually insatiable woman” theme of classic literature. These heroines, sex-starved women trapped in loveless marriages who inevitably take farmhands for lovers (Lady Chatterley’s Lover), continues to fascinate.

LADY MACBETH is stunning and launches the careers of Pugh, director Oldroyd and first time feature film screenwriter Alice Birch.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society:

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at

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