Lady Macbeth first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September ’16 where it opened to rave reviews from across the board. Most who saw the movie at the premiere were largely impressed with the film overall. The film is finally receiving a North American run all of these months later and I finally got my chance to check it out recently…
Synopsis: In this adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s novella “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District,” a 19th century young bride is sold into marriage to a middle-aged man. (D Films)
Starring: Florence Pugh, Cosmos Jarvis, and Naomi Ackie
Writer: Alice Birch
Director: William Oldroyd
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
For showtimes and more, check out Lady Macbeth on movietimes.com.
William Oldroyd’s feature debut, “Lady Macbeth”, is a dark, gloomy and at times really tense and even uncomfortable film. It is a seductive and twisted tale with lots of sex, violence and ultimately murders. There are some shocking moments throughout and unlike most films of this nature, there is no one clear character to root for here. With it’s confined setting, the film plays out more like a stage play than a full theatrical production at times and also takes time to truly get going but those are a few flaws that are easy to overlook for a film of this nature. It’s an unpredictable film and without diving into spoiler territory, it takes a lot of unexpected twists and turns as it moves along, making it an exciting watch. The line between right and wrong becomes something debatable here.
To add to it’s praise, the costumes, production design, direction and performances are all more than solid here and is quite impressive considering this is Oldroy’s first feature film. Nominations for the film’s costumes (Holly Waddington) and production designers come awards season time should not come as much of a surprise. While it’s still really early for bold predictions, this is some of the best work in those two departments all year. There isn’t really much of a score here but Oldroyd allows for the atmosphere and the outside world to become it’s own character with the sounds of nature playing a large part here instead of a true score of sorts which works but a more traditional score may have worked better. As for the screenplay it comes from first time screenwriter Alice Birch. Birch who mixes modern dialogue to make the film more accessible to a modern audience with slang and the vocabulary from the time period which makes for a welcome mix. Some history buffs may not like this but it makes the film more accessible and it’s not hard to understand what any of the characters are saying as such.
Now, let’s talk performances. There is one actor who overshadows the rest and that is Florence Pugh and while you may not have heard of her yet, you soon will. She absolutely steals the show here with a quiet, yet effective lead performance. While the rest of the actors/actresses involved turn in some good work here too she completely blows them out of the way. What’s most impressive, however, is that this is only her second feature role to date. This is most definitely a performance to seek out. It may not be Oscar Worthy or anything like that but it’s a clear sign of up and coming talent.
The only thing that didn’t really work was the relationship that blossomed between Lady Macbeth and her land worker Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis). It is one for which comes out of nowhere and didn’t really feel right and you’ll have to check it out to see for yourselves. Other than that, all of the performances are really strong. Next to Pugh, Naomi Ackie gives an emotionally powerful yet quiet performance as the housemaid that is also deserving of praise. She was great in a role where she was barely allowed to speak unless spoken to.
My Verdict: Stars 3.0 out of 5.0 – Dark and Gloomy, “Lady Macbeth” is a quiet, yet effective period piece thriller that showcases some great performances and impressive production values across the board. Young actress Florence Pugh is the film’s standout here and is a star in the making with this film looking to be the vehicle that can launch her career. Likewise, the film nails the look and tone that Oldroyd was going for. Everything fits into place nicely and the impressive cinematography and beautiful landscapes make this one an easy watch. In terms of flaws, one of the film’s most important relationships was difficult to buy into and that’s a big problem on it’s own. Likewise, the film does feel a bit longer than it actually is and it drags a bit in the middle. These flaws aren’t enough to distract from an otherwise good film but they were still enough to bring my grade down substantially. Thankfully, more of the film works than what doesn’t. The film’s many exciting twists and turns still make it a good watch overall.