Lady Macbeth Screen 20 articles

Lady Macbeth


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  • The novella is a relentlessly miserablist parade of abuse, adultery, and homicide, but the changes that Oldroyd and screenwriter Alice Birch have made to its plotline all but ensure that their Lady Macbeth is also essentially sexist. Leskov's Shakespeare-inspired antiheroine—a wife who plans and carries out multiple murders—is transformed from a character driven by desperation into one who's seemingly animated by an innate wickedness.

  • Despite Oldroyd's formidable direction, however, his perspective on the material, as well as his point of empathy, wavers; the film's third act, the unseemly events of which derive from Leskov, but with one critical detail altered, turns Catherine into a banal sociopath, copping out with “ambiguously” blank close-ups set to ominous minor-key droning instead of delivering on the promises of its feminist tract.

  • Even skeptics tend to praise Florence Pugh's performance in the title role, but I submit that her talent obscures some fundamentally poor choices (for which director William Oldroyd shares the blame, of course). An appalling metamorphosis is what's called for, but Pugh works overtime to signal what's coming, right from the outset; she seems disturbed even before the patriarchal nightmare has a chance to warp her.

  • What starts off as interesting and potentially inventive becomes more and more confused as it goes on. After a few developments in the second act, the tone is less assured, playing the melodrama as tragedy and ending with a simple-minded view of how race and gender relate to privilege and power. And the sound design continually reaffirms and repeats the same strategy over and over with little variation.

  • The film avoids the Lawrentian ring of her sexual escapades, and part of its appeal lies in Katherine’s laying waste to the pretenses of respectability as a 21st-century adolescent might. But Katherine feels disorientingly more modern than anyone around her, and the cold-blooded finale feels less like a true reckoning with moral character than the filmmakers seem to intend.

  • At 89 minutes, it is murderous potboiler material stripped bare—too bare, I think, because it ends up lapsing into vagueness. To address just one fundamental question, as Katherine enters an affair with the estate’s groomsman (bodices will be ripped), is she experiencing true romantic passion or just exercising her god-given right to casual sex? Or is an inability to distinguish the two part of the whole point? That the answer seems to shift scene by scene indicates a lack of narrative firmness.

  • With no score and zero levity, “Lady Macbeth” maintains a constant atmospheric dread. Oldroyd crafts a masterful sense of uncertainty about how far Katherine will go to preserve her dominance.

  • Like the novella, the movie opens up some interpretive leeway as it invites your sympathy for Katherine. She’s an unambiguous captive, trapped by sex and class, yet the viciousness that her liberation awakens — as carnal lust slips into bloodlust — precludes a facile redemptive reading. Mr. Oldroyd boxes Katherine in his attractive visuals, imprisoning her as her male relatives do. Yet his intellectual distance also turns her into a specimen, a pinned butterfly turned taxidermy beast.

  • Not an adaptation of the Bard, but in other ways as Shakespearean as it gets, Lady Macbeth is a powerfully austere nineteenth-century drama, and an uncompromising attempt to make that rare thing, a genuine British art film.

  • An impressively stark, narratively ruthless Victorian chamber piece that feels about as modern as its crinolines will permit, William Oldroyd’s pristine debut feature slowly reveals a violent moral ambiguity that needles the mind far longer than its polite period-piece trappings suggest. This disquieting drama of an arranged marriage gone drastically awry may come to be most remembered, however, as the film that gave 19-year-old Florence Pugh her first leading-lady showcase.

  • Oldroyd’s film deploys a blank, realist aesthetic akin to Flaubert’s unemotional, descriptive and detached free indirect discourse. Katherine’s erratic behaviour bursts out of her in almost silent, masterfully composed static shots and the effect of surprise is particularly effective and darkly comic when her mischief is childish or aimed at truly oppressive men.

  • One film proving surprisingly brutal and multi-faceted was Lady Macbeth... Oldroyd's representation of the period is shorn of the usual heavy drapes and fussy interiors, stripped back so that the rooms offer a sense of chilly abstinence rather than comfort — beautifully contrasted with the lush, moist greens of the rural landscape where his protagonist finds warmth despite the cold.

  • Oldroyd coolly subverts the fusty conventions of British costume drama, adding emotional cruelty to the crinoline via a tale of frustrated, resentful nineteenth-century English mercantile domesticity that deliberately incurs as many debts to Chandler and Hammett as it does to Austen or Eliot: The Footman Always Knocks Twice, if you will.

  • Brisk and sure-footed, Lady Macbeth outclasses many of its peers in British period cinema, not because of its bold use of sex and violence, but because of its dramatic intelligence and its skill at filleting contemporary relevance from a classic literary source.

  • Not unlike a 1940s glamour performance the camera favors [Katherine] and her face, but Pugh keeps the turmoil, anger, fear and ultimate insanity hidden beneath the surface. There is no shaking, no twitching, no head clutching. There are some cracks in the surface of her fascinating face but they are subtle. (Actually I believe Pugh’s performance is precisely built on hiding these signs of mental instability – she plays a woman who is acting all the time, hiding her madness.)

  • [Katherine's] daily routines of waking up and bathing are rendered with such ferocity—the soundtrack amplifies every brushstroke as though shredding through knots in Katherine’s hair—that the film’s eventual escalation into physical violence and murder seems a natural progression.

  • A “feminist” film need not portray all its female characters in a positive light. Women aren’t a monolith of benevolence. Still, a film with multiple female characters who are equal parts sympathetic and sadistic, who face off against one another in a battle of wits and will, exposing some harsh truths about race, class, and privilege, is something rare — something to be tightly embraced. Lady Macbeth — a chilling period piece about a woman who comes into her own savage power — is that film.

  • Scene for increasingly horrifying scene, Lady Macbeth is about the making of a psychopath for whom bullying and betrayal have become learned behavior. The spotlight remains without sentimentality on Katherine and on the falling dominoes of violence that attend her efforts to sustain ownership of her illicit passion.

  • This film may be directed by a man (it is the British theater director’s debut film feature) but Alice Birch is the screenwriter, and this is one production that’s all about authorial intent... Patriarchy creates unlikable women, and then it brutalizes them for fulfilling that fate. “Lady Macbeth” calls our bluff by daring us to find anything likeable in such a powerful anti-heroine. That I cannot only means the film has done its job.

  • Like The Beguiled, Lady Macbeth is about power and the performed innocence of white womanhood. But in enriching its drama with race, Oldroyd's film demonstrates just how much Coppola's missed out on in contorting itself in its attempts to make gender dynamics its only axis.

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