CINEMA REVIEW: LADY MACBETH (2016)
DIRECTOR: William Oldroyd
WRITER: Alice Birch, adapted from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov
CAST: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie, Paul Hilton
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Are there great films announced as classics or loved by critics which you do not like? That isn’t to say they aren’t great films but subjectively you just don’t enjoy them? I guess the biggest ones for me are probably Mulholland Drive (2001) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). I love the work of Spielberg and Lynch mostly but just do not enjoy these critically acclaimed films at all.
Similarly, a brilliantly made low-budget-period-horror from last year called The Witch (2016) got huge plaudits and the filmmaker Robert Eggers deserved much praise for his atmospheric direction. However, I found it a tremendous bore. As for the box office smash Blair Witch Project (1999); don’t get me started on that over-rated genius-marketing-over-quality-cinema-trash.
Anyway, how is this ranting connected to my viewing of the grim and pretentious Lady Macbeth (2016)? Well, it’s a film that critics are no doubt going to enjoy for its subversive genre skewering of the traditional period drama. Moreover, the direction by William Oldroyd is stark and impressive, while the fearless Florence Pugh in the lead is clearly going to be an actress to watch in the future. However, it is an intellectual film with little humanity and is ultimately nihilistic in terms of entertainment.
The story is set in 1865 rural England up North against the backdrop of patriarchal dominance where women must and shall know their place. Pugh’s character Katherine is essentially sold into a loveless marriage and rather than play the dutiful wife she rebels viciously. Firstly, she drinks the Master’s house dry of the booze and then enters into an extremely erotic affair with one of the servants, portrayed with muscular naivety by Cosmo Jarvis.
From then on the cycle of events descend to hellish depths. Murder and revenge are clearly hinted at in the film’s Shakespearean title as Katherine gives Lady Macbeth a run for her money in terms of evil plotting and fiendish acts. Indeed, this expertly made film is a pure exercise in passionate hysteria featuring a spoilt and lustful lead character. While I love challenging cinema — especially by the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn, Michael Haneke and Lynn Ramsay — there remains an emotional vacuum in this narrative because I found it hard to care about anyone.
The most sympathetic character in my view was the brutalized maid Anna and perhaps the story would’ve been more interesting for me if told from her perspective? So while the film was beautifully shot and framed, I was quite often stumped by the characters’ motivations; especially by Katharine’s decisions at the end. I mean is she the kind of heroine feminism longs for? I doubt that because ultimately she is an evil human being and not a standard bearer for woman kind. Or is she?
Lady Macbeth undoubtedly makes valuable points in regard to the racist and sexist oppression of the time but it is very difficult to have empathy for a lead character who has had a severe personality by-pass. A far better representation of female empowerment against dominant patriarchy is Park Chan-Wook’s brilliant film The Handmaiden (2016). So, while this film is likely to be on a lot of critics’ “Best films of 2017” lists, I found it overall a pretentious bore.
(Mark: 5.5 out of 11 for the film)
(Mark: 9 out of 11 for Florence Pugh)