Lady Macbeth, directed by William Oldroyd, is a film that some, if not many, will struggle with. But that struggle does not come from the film being bad, because it isn’t. That struggle will come from the fact that its lead character is a truly reprehensible person. She could perhaps be best described as evil. But, are her evil ways justified? Does the fact that the lead character is so un-sympathetic, mean the film has too large of a hurdle for people to overcome when it comes to consuming this film? I want to explore those questions and more in my review, so let’s get to it.
Taking place in rural England in the 19th-century, Katherine Lester – played by Florence Pugh – is sold into marriage to Alexander Lester – played by Paul Hilton – who is a deeply unpleasant man. Katherine, tiered with the role that has been selected for her begins to rebel, but her rebellious ways slowly begin to spiral out of control and soon she is on a path that is seemingly self-destructive, though not content with only harming herself, she seeks to bring everyone else down around her, regardless of who they are.
There is an atmosphere to Lady Macbeth that creeps into you; it chills your insides and then slowly begins to hollow you out, leaving a husk. There is nothing about the film that leaves you feeling good or that you’ve been a part of something that was rewarding. You are witness to a story and characters that hurt each other; that think only of themselves and no one else. It’s an emotional masochist’s dream scenario.
And at the centre of it all is, Katherine Lester. A character who is initially sympathetic, but then transforms into the real monster of the tale. She is forced into a horrible situation: a forced marriage with a detestable, weak man, with a father who is much the same. At first, I was readying myself for a film where I was going to be rooting for Katherine and her fight against her oppressive situation. What I wasn’t them ready for, was an experience where I would soon be rooting against her, while also gleefully watching as the terrors unfolded. I could best describe Katherine as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Katherine utilises every cruel or nefarious tactic she as a woman has at hand; poison, betrayal, lies, manipulation, her physical alluring’s and of course murder. Nothing is off-limits for the character and that in turn makes her one of the most dangerous people on-screen, which for the audience is both distressing and exciting at the same time.
It is also a strength of the film, that it doesn’t hide who Katherine is or what she does. It shows it all; dragging out the crueller moments; showing them in drawn out suspense. And it is at its best when there are other people around to witness it, as then you really get a sense of how cold and calculated, Katherine is and how unprepared and scared of her, they are. There is real power in the character, and none of it comes from her ability to physically overpower someone, it all comes from her ability to control them with her superior way of thinking and acting.
Which brings me onto Florence Pugh, who plays Katherine: What a performance she delivers. There is something about her that draws you in, despite the cruelty of the character, she is still able to find a hint of innocence (at times) which can almost trick you, making you question your opinion of the character, but then she pulls the rug out from under you and says or does something that is utterly evil, causing you to step back, putting you on the backfoot as you try to get a handle on the character again. Florence Pugh is magnificent and unwavering in this film. She is the film, without her and her performance, you have nothing.
But here’s the problem: I personally enjoyed watching the madness unfold; watching as bad people tore one another a part, but I don’t think a general audience will have the same experience. There is no good in this film. There isn’t a character who stands out as a beacon of hope; that you can then attach yourself to and root for until the end. This film is filled with awful people being awful to one another – it’s an awful-off. Other than the first few scenes of the film, it is nigh on impossible to sympathise for Katherine or the people around her, which can leave you detached from the film, emotionally.
For me though, Lady Macbeth was a film that stuck with me. While I was watching it, I was hypnotised by its boldness, and once it had finished, I was stalked by its staying power. There is no happy ending to this film; there is no rewarding feeling once it’s all over, but sometimes you need a film to go its own way; not wrap everything up in a neat little bow, where the good guys win. There are brutal, heartless people out there and sometimes it can be secretly enjoyable to watch them chase their purpose, however they see appropriate.
Lady Macbeth does that and more. It doesn’t hide or have the sun rise on a better day. It commits to the badness that exists within people and it delivers a film that is truly what it wants to be.
I am going to recommend Lady Macbeth. This film might turn a few people away, but I implore you to give this film a chance and see it through to its end. You might be surprised at what it causes you to think – to feel.
I’d love to know your thoughts on my review, so please leave any opinions/feedback in the comments section down below. I’d also really appreciate it if you gave my blog a follow and checked out my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. If not, that’s fine, I’ll finish up by saying thank you for taking the time to read my review and I hope you have a swell day.