Lady Macbeth

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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

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