Lady Macbeth Review
Lady Macbeth (2016) Film Review from the 23rd Annual Los Angeles Film Festival, a movie directed by William Oldroyd, starring Florence Pugh, Christopher Fairbank, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, Bill Fellows, Golda Rosheuvel, Finn Burridge, Ian Conninham, Rebecca Manley, Fleur Houdijk, Kema Sikazwe, David Kirkbride, Cliff Burnett, Anton Palmer, and Alan Billingham.
It’s fashionable to decry supposed instances of “patriarchy” these days, but William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth gives us a shockingly visceral look at what patriarchy actually looks like. A sizzling thriller set in the late 19th century, the movie doesn’t tell the story of a girl forced to marry against her will and cope with the various men who abuse her in a society that views women as second class citizens so much as it tells the story of a woman strong enough to get back at the men who oppress her and flout the rules of a society that doesn’t recognize or appreciate her power.
Across the board, the acting was terrific. This may seem like a unhelpfully simple statement for a critic to make, but there is no other way to put it. Florence Pugh commands viewers’ attention in her role as Katherine, bringing a quiet strength to the role that makes it clear from the beginning that she is no hapless victim from her first humiliation at the hands of her husband Alexander (Paul Hilton). She is more than a match for Boris (Christopher Fairbank), Alexander’s controlling father, and completely convincing in her manipulation of Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), who proves to be more compassionate than the women he tried to rape earlier when he confesses to the murder of Alexander’s son. Only Anna (Naomi Ackie), the black servant girl who alone is privy to Katherine’s murderous tendencies, can be described as truly moral, watching in horror as her mistress descends into madness but utterly powerless to stop her.
In this movie, the silence is as meaningful as the dialogue, with there being many stretches of time where nothing is spoken but much is said. A recurring motif of Katherine staring into the camera develops, with her assuming this position at several points throughout the film such as when she sits disinterestedly at dinner as Alexander tries to entertain his guests or when she dines with Boris while her husband is away, attempting to repress a mischievous smile borne of her infidelity and her father-in-law’s ignorance of it. It’s almost as if she is trying to establish communication with the audience, not simply acknowledging their presence but imploring them to revel alongside her as she gets her revenge.
Even in the last scene, after she has condemned not only Sebastian but Anna as well to the hangman in order to save her own skin, she returns to the chair she sat in early in the film and looks to the camera, aware that she has thrown everything she fought for away but seemingly numb to the fact. This time, however, she’s not asking for empathy or forgiveness, but simply acknowledgement, as the expressionless look on her fact indicates.
A movie, much less a thriller, that spends as much time being quiet as Lady Macbeth might sound like a chore to sit through but the story it tells and the way it tells it make it very much worth the time and effort spent watching it. It’s not something you’d watch on a lark, but every once in a while to see if there was anything you missed the first time around.
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