Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Based on the short story Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov, Lady Macbeth is the story of a woman in a loveless marriage as she begins an affair with a servant that eventually becomes toxic and dangerous. Directed by William Oldroyd and screenplay by Alice Birch, the film is an exploration of a woman coping with the role she played in mid-19th Century society as well as being in an affair where she would create a lot of trouble for the people around her. Starring Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, and Christopher Fairbank. Lady Macbeth is a rapturous and eerie film from William Oldroyd.
Set in 1865 in the English countryside, the film revolves around a young woman who had been sold into a loveless marriage to a man much older than her as she would later embark on an affair with a new servant that would eventually cause turmoil at the estate. It’s a film with a simple premise as it play into the idea of oppression and desire and how far a young woman will go to maintain a sense of freedom in her rich yet rigid environment. Alice Birch’s screenplay does take the three-act structure as it play into world that Katherine Lester (Florence Pugh) would encounter through her marriage to Alexander (Paul Hilton) as it was arranged so that his father Boris (Christopher Fairbank) could acquire her family’s land. The first act is about Katherine’s own isolation and boredom in her marriage when Alexander later leaves to deal with business as she has to deal with her father-in-law as the only other person at her home is a maid in Anna (Naomi Ackie).
Upon meeting the farmhand Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) during a moment where he is humiliating Anna with other farmhands, she is entranced by him once Alexander is away where an affair ensues. The film’s second act revolves around the continuation of the affair but also the sense of unease from Anna’s perspective over events that occurred as she becomes mute. Yet, much of the film is about Katherine’s willingness to be in this affair and take direction of her own life but her actions would create chaos in her estate as well as the impact it would have in her relationship with Sebastian. Things would intensify upon the arrival of a woman named Agnes (Golda Rosheuvel) and a boy named Teddy (Anton Palmer) that would complicate everything for Katherine in maintaining her role as the woman of the estate as well as her affair with Sebastian.
William Oldroyd’s direction is ravishing for the way he creates this look of mid-19th Century Victorian Britain on various locations in the north of England to play into the life of this young woman in an oppressive estate. Much of the direction is shot with hand-held cameras where many of the scenes inside the home has a sense of precise composition in the way Katherine is framed as she’s sitting on a chair in a medium-wide shot to play into her loneliness. There is little camera movement in those scenes as there are these intricate compositions in the way Katherine is eating dinner with Alexander or Boris as well as where Anna is positioned to fetch a wine or something for Boris. The usage of the wide and medium shots play into the scope of the rooms as there’s also close-ups that capture the drama of how Boris reacts to Katherine during breakfast or dinner. The scenes outside of the estate is much looser where the hand-held cameras become more evident in shots where Katherine is walking on the fields or in the rainy grounds.
Oldroyd’s direction also play into the suspense where he does emphasize on natural sound as there are rare moments of the music score being played as it only appear in intense and dark moments that occur. These scenes aren’t just eerie but also contain an element of violence that is unexpected in a period drama as the drama intensifies in the third act with the arrival of Agnes and Teddy. Even as it all play into the decisions Katherine would make about holding on to her love for Sebastian as well as the social status she’s gained through her marriage to Alexander. It would come to these moments where Katherine would be the one to choose her fate and at great cost. Overall, Oldroyd crafts an intoxicating yet unsettling film about a woman’s deadly affair with a servant.
Cinematographer Ari Wegner does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it has this air of naturalism for much of the film’s exteriors including some daytime interior scenes at the estate as well as some low-key lighting for the scenes at night. Editor Nick Emerson does excellent work with the editing as it has elements of style in its usage of jump-cuts as well as rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense and drama. Production designer Jacqueline Abrahams and art director Thalia Ecclestone do amazing work with the look of the house in many of its interiors including the furniture, the beds, and the stables as it’s a highlight of the film. Costume designer Holly Waddington does fantastic work with the costumes from the dresses that Katherine wears to play into her personality as well as the look of the clothes the servants, her husband, and father-in-law wear.
Hair/makeup designer Sian Wilson does nice work with the look of Katherine’s hairstyle as it play into the period of the times as well as expressing her emotions where there’s something dark whenever her hair is tied in a bun. Visual effects supervisor Daniel Nielsen does terrific work with the film’s minimal visual effects as it is mainly set dressing for some of the film’s exteriors. Sound designers Ben Baird and Dan Jones do incredible work with the sound as it is a highlight of the film with its approach to sparse sound textures and how objects would sound in its natural state while Jones would do the film’s score as it’s a wonderfully understated usage of music in its ambient setting as it only appear in three key moments in the film.
The casting by Shaheen Baig is superb as it feature some notable small roles from Cliff Burnett as Father Peter, Rebecca Manley as the maid Mary, Bill Fellows as Dr. Burdon, Ian Conningham as a detective, Golda Rosheuvel as Agnes as a woman who knows Alexander and Boris, and Anton Palmer in a terrific performance as the boy Teddy who appears in the third act as he would be a source of disruption for Katherine and Sebastian. Naomi Ackie is fantastic as the maid Anna as a young British-African woman who finds herself being aware of Katherine’s affair with Sebastian as she would become mute following a drastic event in the film’s first act. Christopher Fairbank is excellent as Boris Lester as Katherine’s father-in-law who wants to maintain a strict idea of the household as he becomes suspicious of Katherine’s activities outside the home.
Paul Hilton is brilliant as Katherine’s husband Alexander as a man who is trying to maintain his role as a husband and businessman while his interest in Katherine is having her be naked while he jacks off to her to please himself. Cosmo Jarvis is amazing as Sebastian as a farmhand who is new to the estate as he has a carnal interest in Katherine which leads to this tumultuous affair that becomes toxic as he later copes with some of the chaos that would ensue during the film’s third act. Finally, there’s Florence Pugh in a phenomenal performance as Katherine Lester as a young woman forced into a loveless marriage as it’s a performance with some restraint in the way she has to present herself as well as some liveliness in her affair with Sebastian as there’s also some great facial expressions that says a lot into what she’s feeling or what she’s planning to do as there’s an element of darkness in the performance which is a total breakthrough for Pugh.
Lady Macbeth is a sensational film from William Oldroyd that features an incredible performance from Florence Pugh. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, intoxicating sound design, and an eerie story of lust and deceit, it’s a film that explores a woman’s desperation to maintain an affair while being in a loveless marriage that would eventually lead to total chaos. In the end, Lady Macbeth is a spectacular film from William Oldroyd.
© thevoid99 2018