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Joyce Khoh reviews the chilling Lady Macbeth, based on Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

Lady Macbeth is a gothic tale about one woman’s struggle for control and happiness. Set in 19th century rural England, it tells the story of a woman trapped in a marriage of convenience who embarks on a passionate love affair that unleashes her dark side.

In 1965, Katherine (Florence Pugh) is ‘sold’ as a young bride to a rich older man and she finds married life to be lonely and stifling. Trapped in a big house with nothing to do but the sole purpose of serving her husband (who doesn’t even show any care or love to her) and producing an heir, Katherine is unhappy and ends up cheating on him with the stable-hand Sebastian whilst her husband is away on business.

When her controlling father-in-law finds out about it, instead of being submissive (like she was taught to be), Katherine rebels and argues back. In her pursuit for happiness and insistence on being with Sebastian at all costs, despite initially seeming weak and submissive, Katherine transforms into a manipulative and cold-blooded woman capable of poisoning her father-in-law, killing her own husband and even a young child whilst covering it all up with lies. All for the sake of her own freedom and happiness.

Simple yet filled with depth and heart, this is a brilliantly directed gem of a film

Directed by a trio of first-timers (William Oldroyd, Alice Birch, Fodhia Cronin O’Reilly) making their feature film debut on a relatively low budget under the iFeatures scheme, Lady Macbeth is a unique and impressive piece. Despite having a simple setting – most of the film is set in the house and occasionally outdoors – it convincingly tells the story of Katherine’s struggles in her loveless marriage without getting boring.

Although it had a relatively slow beginning and certain parts were slightly confusing, its rawness and simplicity accurately evokes the melancholy and bondage that women from that era were subjected to due to gender roles. There are quite a lot of sexual scenes as well, reflecting Katherine’s ‘pent-up frustration’ and, in short, this film can be said to be simple yet witty, sensual and captivating.

Most striking is the character development and various sides to each character. At first glance, Katherine seems quiet, submissive and rather pitiful. However, there are various sides to her, an upright one where she protects the maid, Anna, from being bullied and humiliated by a group of men, and also a scary, manipulative and cold-blooded side, which will stop at nothing to be with Sebastian and throughout the entire film, she appears to feel no guilt whatsoever.

Sebastian is another interesting character; he initially appears rude and misogynistic but, as the film continues, he feels guilty for playing a part in those murders and refuses to ‘go all out’ in order to be with Katherine, whom he finds scary and cold-blooded.

The cast give great and convincing performances, especially Florence Pugh. The lack of background music surprisingly worked, emphasising the cold and ‘stifling’ nature of the big empty house and the relationships between various characters were thought-provoking and reflected various themes such as gender roles, race, abuse, power and authority.

The cinematography is beautiful and the film as a whole is just as refreshing, even compared to billion-dollar high-budget commercial films. Simple yet filled with depth and heart, this brilliantly directed gem of a film is captivating and a must-watch.

What did you think of Lady Macbeth? Let us know on @EpigramFilm.

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