Lady Macbeth


Last week we travelled over to Home in Manchester to watch Lady Macbeth the new film by William Oldroyd. The film isn’t about Shakespeare’s ruthless noblewoman, but is loosely based on a nineteenth century novella called Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov, which was later adapted as an Opera by Shostakovich and also filmed by Polish director Andrzej Wajda’s in 1962 as Siberian Lady Macbeth. The story has elements of both Madame Bovary and Lady Chatterley and the lead character is certainly as ruthless as her namesake.

The new version is set in wild and bleak Northumbria during Victorian times and stars Florence Pugh as Katherine, a young woman bought with a piece of land “not fit for a cow to graze upon” to marry the son of a cruel and miserable mine owner. It’s a loveless and sexless marriage and Katherine is forbidden to go outside onto the moors so has to spend her days indoors, bored and unfilled.

But when both her husband and father in law are called away on business she is left in the house alone with the servants and embarks on a passionate affair with one of the stable hands, played by Cosmo Jarvis. As the affair develops she starts to take control and becomes less and less concerned at hiding what was going on. The affair was being conducted openly in full view of the servants and word reaches her father in law who confronts her on his return. This triggers a series of events which spirals into a tragic ending (I’ll not say any more to avoid spoilers)

We are all formed by our experiences, and this is certainly the case with the lead character. Repressed and restrained by Victorian norms and attitudes towards women, here taken to extremes by her husband and, particularly, her father in law, it is perhaps not surprising that she makes the most of the opportunity when the chains are released, albeit temporarily, when her husband and his father are both away. So our sympathy was perhaps with our Lady Macbeth at first. But there are unpleasant aspects to her character and these emerge with her treated of her black maid (Naomi Ackie) and the her merciless behaviour as the story spirals to it’s tragic conclusion.

Besides some excellent acting the director creates a moody, claustrophobic atmosphere and there is some excellent cinematography of the bleak Northumbrian moors.

A cracking film

10 thoughts on “Lady Macbeth

  1. Thanks for a great review – we were wondering whether to go and might have missed it, but for you. We really enjoy your varied blog topics.

  2. I decided not read your post until after I’d seen the film – yesterday as it happens. You sum it up really well. Passionate and violent but mesmerising. The actors were fantastic and the bleak moorland and very spare furnished house brought to my mind a Nordic/Germanic atmosphere and a painting by Caspar David Friedrich ‘Woman at a window’


    • Yes. That painting is definitely similar in style and atmosphere. Reminds me of some of Hammershoi’s pictures too – and they’re Nordic, of course. Although they’re not so grim!

      • Oh yes! Hammershoi. I think those are the ones I was thinking of but they didn’t come up when Googling ‘Woman looking out of window from behind’ or something like that. Thank you. Just the right period too.

  3. I also enjoyed your well written review, even though I do not agree with your observations. . For me, it is shallow in its storytelling and devoid of emotion. Its a pity because all the other ingredients are there.

    • Thanks for your comment. Of course everyone will respond in their own way. It certainly was cold emotionally but that kind of appealed to me!

      • Interesting comment; the Gothic atmosphere was well crafted and I can appreciate that many would rate that highly. Thanks for the reply.

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