Review: Lady Macbeth transplants Russian literature to the wild and windy moors

Rising star Florence Pugh as Katherine in William Oldroyd's debut Lady MacBeth. Picture: Altitude

Rising star Florence Pugh as Katherine in William Oldroyd's debut Lady MacBeth. Picture: Altitude - Credit: Altitude

The anti-heroine of William Oldroyd's debut is portrayed with scorching intensity by rising 19-year-old British acting star Florence Pugh.

Lady Macbeth (15)

***

William Oldroyd's impressive debut feature, adapted by scriptwriter Alice Birch from Nikolai Leskov's 19th-century Russian novella, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk, resets the sex-fuelled skulduggery to Victorian England, where women are treated as commodities by glowering husbands.

On the night of her wedding Katherine (Florence Pugh) is informed that her new home might be a little colder and more drafty than she is accustomed to.


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That's true enough; Lady Macbeth is the British costume drama with all the opulence and shine wiped clear. She lives a stifling life with her dull husband (Paul Hilton) in they dreary, overbearing country pile in the North East they share with his dreary, overbearing father (Christopher Fairbank). The pair of them are austere and joyless. She is chattel, part of a land deal. But in a severe case of Buyer Beware, she proves strongly resistant to her passive role and is about to wreck their way of life.

Despite the Shakespean title, the Eng Lit GCSE set text it most resembles is Wuthering Heights. Out on the wild and windy moors she rolls and falls into something very dark, a temper and jealousy too hot and too greedy.

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In movie terms it is as though Oldroyd has taken the cast and locations of Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights and given them a severe dressing down.

There are no impressionistic flourishes here. Oldroyd mostly shoots with a static camera that mirrors the rigours and restrictions of life back then.

A lot goes unsaid, but his framing and placement of the actors speak volumes. It successfully transplants Russian literature to the realms of Brit costume drama.

Oldroyd's directorial choices marry perfectly with the themes and he gets great performances from his cast. But it's a thoroughly bleak experience and at times Katherine, a Geordie girl who just wants to have fun, seems to have been beamed back in time to this drama.

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