Lady Macbeth (2016) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Florence Pugh is having a big year in 2019 with Fighting with my Family, Midsommar, and the Christmas release of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. I’ve seen two out of the three films, and I’ve been very impressed by Pugh in both – and, while exploring her filmography, I noticed Lady Macbeth (2016). It was a film that had piqued my interest back in 2016, but I’d never managed to see it. Luckily for me, I just discovered my local library has an extensive collection of movies available for checkout, and it was one of them.  

Lady Macbeth was intense and features an outstanding lead performance

Katherine (Pugh) has been sold into marriage during the early 19th century in England. Her husband, Alexander (Paul Hilton), is unloving and distant, and his father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), makes life there all the more unpleasant. Katherine finds herself bored and failing at the expectations of a wife. Fortunately for her, Alexander and Boris both have to leave for an undetermined amount of time, and she meets Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a worker at the estate who makes her life much more interesting. 

Lady Macbeth is the first feature film directed by William Oldroyd, and I’m not sure what it is he’s waiting to do for his next. I thought the execution of this film to be so strong – much of that is possibly owed to the director of photography, Ari Wegner, and the solid score by Dan Jones. The camera is mostly stationary, but the positioning of it and the framing of the characters is so impactful to the story that is being told. Katherine’s world is cold – both in actual temperature and in acceptance. She seems generally unwanted by everyone there until Sebastian takes an interest. The framing of her – mostly centered – in those lonely moments as she is literally bored to sleep time and time again is visually impactful. Each of these shots utilizes a wide lens, so even when all we see of her is the back of her head, she’s dwarfed by the emptiness of the room. There are tons of examples like this throughout the film, and I couldn’t help but be captivated by them. 

There were two performances that really made this movie masterful in my opinion. Pugh is the obvious standout – and her stardom, at least in the indie world, is all but sealed by now. She is tremendous, and I hope to see her continue to take these challenging roles. This movie is more in the vein of Midsommar in what it asks for Pugh to do. Lady Macbeth is not entirely the movie one might expect, and Pugh’s character is far more complex than she initially appears. Even her relationship with Sebastian starts in a strange way that is uncomfortable to watch. Pugh handles every twist and each circumstance masterfully. 

While Jarvis is solid and delivers some big scenes very well, it was Naomi Ackie as the maid Anna that impressed me. Anna is constantly dragged into situations as a result of Katherine’s choices. Ackie’s performance is very nuanced, and it’s all of those little details that make her a standout. It may simply be a reaction that registers on her face or the way she lays her hands on her stomach when she is worried – but those choices bring so much to what the character is going through. Ackie, alongside Pugh, makes for one hell of a film. 

Final thoughts…

If you’re like me, you probably missed Lady Macbeth. If you’re a fan of period dramas that take a darker edge on humanity than you’ll want to check this movie out as soon as possible. At the very least, seeing the film for Pugh’s performance is worth the time to watch it. Lady Macbeth earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating. 

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