Lady Macbeth, 3rd May 2017
So a bit of an aside first. Went to see that Sense of an Ending at the cinema but never got round to reviewing it. Bit pointless now as it has probably been and gone from all those arthouse cinemas where it might have got a look in. Anyway, an exemplary cast (jim Broadbent, Harriet Walter, Charlotte Rampling, Michele Dockery) showing all those Hollywood chumps how to act and a screenplay by the marvellous Nick Payne based on the Julian Barnes novel. It could not be more British-class-act if it tried. Loved it (in short the past comes back to haunt our lead – shades of 45 Years – another recent Brit-class-act) until the last few minutes. Now I know there is a clue in the title but I still felt deflated by the open ending. Anyway, if and when it hits Netflix, do the decent thing and watch this and not some idiotic blockbuster.
So off to the next Brit-class-act on general release in the theatrically sculpted form of Lady Macbeth. But this time I was accompanied by the expert eye of the SO who has just read Leskov’s novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District on which this is based. I only know the story from the Shostakovich opera and had to quickly remind myself of plot and characters (despite having seen it as recently as Nov 15 at ENO). BTW I note this is going to be revived at the Royal Opera House in 2018, oooh how exciting is that.
Anyway enough of pseuds corner. What happens here. Well bored, “bought” housewife, Katherine, with useless twat of a husband (played by Paul Hilton) and father in law (Christopher Fairbank with that face) has affair with farmhand. So far, so Madame B-Lady C. But then it all goes t*ts up. The screenplay here is by Alice Birch whose anatomy of a suicide (yes small letters) is about to be brought to the Royal Court stage, no doubt in some controversial way, by Katie Mitchell. It cuts most of the last third of book out which is a shame in some ways as there is plenty of plot, general nastiness and psychological insight to be gained there, but, on the other hand, it brings location (C19 NE of England) and its power relationships to the fore and swings us a little bit closer back to the original source of our (anti)-heroine here in Will Shakespeare’s Mrs Macbeth (“it is done” – wait for it). So play, book, opera, film, film – yep there was a film before this as well – mind you trapped woman who breaks all taboos has always fascinated the mostly blokes who wrote this stuff.
It certainly looks the part. Hard to believe this is William Oldroyd’s feature film debut. Muted Hammershoi (look him up) colours, sparsely furnished house interior, crappy weather, windswept moors, Bronte chic. Camera lingering on our Vermeer like leading lady, the outstanding Florence Pugh (who I adored in Falling), who is the dictionary definition of stultified. And when she breaks out she is utterly convincing and the scenes with lover Sebastian, played by Cosmo Jarvis, are properly passionate. And he, and the maid Anna, superbly played by Naomi Ackie, bring another racial dimension to time, place and events. Very intelligent. Events then accelerate towards the chilling conclusion, with Pugh once again devastating as she goes properly bad.
So all in all a remarkable effort. No need to spend squillions on a film. Just take a classic story, get a stage writer of talent to rework it, a theatre director of insight to think it all through and an inspired cast to bring plot and characters to life, lights, camera, sound, action. Job done. Seek it out and if you don’t catch it on a big screen, then, when it eventually gets to the small screen, do not miss it.