Saturday, July 8, 2017

Movie Review: 'Lady Macbeth' is a powerful masterclass

Lady Macbeth (2017, directed by William Oldroyd. England, English, Color, 89 minutes) Lady Macbeth is a memorable figure in Shakespeare's epic tragedy "Macbeth," but the film "Lady Macbeth", an ode to the manipulative wife of the titular character, is not the main character of this film. Instead, a young bride named Catherine is the driving force of this morbid story set in mid-19th century rural England, but her affects are reminiscent to those of the Lady herself. 

Catherine is a young and strong-willed girl thrust into a marriage more cold and distant than the English highlands she would rather escape to for freedom. Her husband locks her up in the house day-in and day-out while he goes off on business and fails to even consummate the marriage when he's home, the latter part being Catherine's own fault according to her father-in-law. She passes her days in a posh sitting room with a gorgeous blue gown with no one to see her. As she firmly told her husband on their wedding night she'd rather be out in the country with the fresh air which he sternly rejects.

She holds her own, without fail. When she overhears a ruckus where one of her maids is about to be sexually assaulted, she berates the group of men who were about to attack her. Interestingly enough, that brute strength she witnesses ignites a flame in her and she becomes sexually involved with the ruckus leader Sebastian while her husband is gone. Of course, he eventually finds out of the infidelity and it only gets worse from there for everybody involved.

At the helm is first-time director William Oldroyd who is so meticulous in constructing this dark tale that keeps unfolding into a dark abyss. It's a pretty dry film, which is suiting for the confines to which Catherine is bound to, and yet Oldroyd makes it so intoxicatingly dense with every shot. The framing is spot-on and so telling of the emotional state of mind of each character (notice how Catherine is almost always center in a symmetrical shot but with some kind of "box" around her?) and told mostly through static shots. If the camera is moving, there's a reason. Oldroyd clearly understands mise en scène.  

But the true highlight of Oldroyd's direction is found in Florence Pugh's portrayal of Catherine. Her beautifully round face is angelic at the surface as she wells with schemes and ploys underneath. Catherine is the dominant figure in her entire world, going after what she wants, when she wants it and not taking no for an answer from anyone. 

I imagine Catherine to be a teenager in the film, and who was at a crossroads between two sinfully delectable women in literature: the murderous Rhoda Penmark from "The Bad Seed" and Marquis Isabelle de Merteuil from "Dangerous Liaisons". Catherine had the fatal instincts of little Rhoda while having the Marquis' demeanor of being the eye in her own hurricane. Pugh is incredibly poised and a breakthrough talent in this remarkable role. I couldn't take my eyes away from her babyface even as she goes so far as to lock a man in a room to let him die. She doesn't bat an eye and still prepares her tea. Catherine is cold, strong and incredibly sure of herself and it's hard to imagine anyone else playing her.

"Lady Macbeth" is a masterclass of filmmaking and acting. It's an icy film that not even the gorgeous production design could melt.

Rating: A

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