A date for mad Mac­beth

Florence Pugh is stun­ning as the car­nal, ruth­less, suf­fer­ing, pitiable, mon­strous anti-hero­ine of Wil­liam Ol­droyd’s film, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY TARA BRADY

LADY MAC­BETH Di­rected by Wil­liam Ol­droyd. Star­ring Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hil­ton, Naomi Ackie, Christo­pher Fair­bank. Cert 16, gen re­lease, 89mins If there’s a chill­ier Lady Mac­beth than Florence Pugh’s cal­lous, schem­ing madam, then we’ll pass on the re­sul­tant heat­ing bill. It didn’t have to be this way. As this ad­mirably piti­less adap­ta­tion of Niko­lai Leskov’s 1865 novella Lady Mac­beth of the Mt­sensk opens, the teenage Kather­ine (Pugh) is mar­ried off to a coarse, im­po­tent man twice her age (Paul Hil­ton).

Their love­less union is made all the more un­bear­able by the pres­ence of her cruel, pa­tri­ar­chal fa­ther-in-law (Christo­pher Fair­bank). Her life, like the ag­o­nis­ing corset that she squeezes into daily, is one of un­bear­able con­fine­ment.

One day, when her hor­ri­ble hus­band leaves the es­tate on busi­ness, Kather­ine falls into bed with Se­bas­tian, a cock­sure, class-blind grooms­man (in­die singer Cosmo Jarvis). The act will have mur­der­ous con­se­quences which will beget still more mur­der­ous con­se­quences. It is as if the hero­ine, hav­ing breached one of the many so­cial im­po­si­tions that bind her, must now breach them all.

Alice Birch’s clever, minimalist script re­lo­cates the bloody deeds of the orig­i­nal novella – once the source of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1934 opera – to wooded 19th-cen­tury Northum- berland, where the in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion pro­vides a tacit back­ground. Aus­tere in­te­ri­ors seem to close in through cin­e­matog­ra­pher Ari Weg­ner’s still, caging fram­ing; ex­te­ri­ors are glum, rocky and – with no lit­tle sense of pa­thetic fal­lacy – over­cast.

As with An­drea Arnold’s Wuther­ing Heights, Wil­liam Ol­droyd’s bold film utilises a racially di­verse cast. Se­bas­tian

No­body on­screen notes that Kather­ine’s in­creas­ingly con­flicted maid Anna (Naomi Ackie) and Se­bas­tian are not white. There is also more than a whiff of the Hegelian Master-slave dia­lec­tic in Kather­ine’s treat­ment of them: the low­est of the low or­ders made lower still.

Pugh, who made such an un­for­get­table debut in Carol Mor­ley’s The Fall­ing, is re­mark­able as the var­i­ously car­nal, ruth­less, suf­fer­ing, pitiable, mon­strous anti-hero­ine. Naomi Ackie and Cosmo Jarvis are more than able to keep pace, with per­for­mances that tran­si­tion from or­der to wide-eyed ter­ror.

This is as fine a cos­tume drama as we’ll see all year, one that tack­les, class and race and gen­der in big-ass dresses. Imag­ine the fur and feath­ers An­gela Carter would spit out if she chewed up Downton Abbey.

Un­bear­able con­fine­ment Florence Pugh in Lady Mac­beth

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