Lady Macbeth Review: Quiet, Stuffy Brutality

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Cold and detached, William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth isn’t trying to sell you on the emotions within its story, it just wants to show you the dark depths of humanity, and how a world of cruelty only breeds more cruelty. With little to latch onto, the film’s heights are admittedly limited, but with great performances and a consistently rewarding aesthetic, it is nevertheless enjoyable.

Adapting Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsenk District, we follow Katherine (Florence Pugh) on her journey through a destructive, abusive marriage in a period, 1865 to be exact, where society put women well below men. But then one of the workers on the nearby land, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) enters the picture, and a fiery physical affair begins as Katherine’s husband is away. Hiding their passion from the maids, and blah’s father in law becomes the priority, which leads eventually to murder.

As Katherine, Pugh’s exploration of her character’s soul is icy and elusive, but endlessly entertaining. She owns the film, bending her surroundings to her will in exciting and increasingly grim ways. And yet, without a heart, the film does too little with its resources. The production itself looks incredible, with top notch costumes and set decoration to immerse us in Katherine’s world. That helps, but the film is too devoid of emotion beyond its bleaker than bleak exploration that it ultimately feels flat. Stuck in its singular tone, Lady Macbeth can’t quite reach its ambitions in a way that feels satisfying, leaving it harshly unequal to the figure it’s title alludes to. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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