Review: Lady Macbeth

This film is based on the lurid and controversial novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk written by Nikolai Leskov. The film has transferred the action of the novel to the North of England instead of Russia and follows Catherine (Florence Pugh), a young woman sold into a marriage to a repulsive man and his equally horrible father. When she begins a passionate affair with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a violent stablehand, she decides to keep it a secret by any means necessary.

This is probably the coldest film I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean in terms of temperature, but in terms of human emotion. There seems to be not one single positive human emotion to be found in this film, and it gets a little bit numbing after a while. I would therefore say that I think I was mis-sold this film by various critics. People described it as ‘Hitchcockian thriller’ about a woman’s murderous revenge on the men who wronged her. Nocturnal Animals with corsets. I was expecting an exploitative, controversial and energised film. Instead I got an incredibly stately and cruel experience which never let me in and left me (here’s that word again) cold.

That’s not to say that the film is without positives. Florence Pugh is masterful in her lead role, presenting to us a charismatic and unpredictable character. However, I feel like the attempts to make me sympathise with her fell flat, with her ongoing motivations making her seem weak and desperate. Maybe this was the point. I’m open to the fact that I didn’t interpret and understand this film as well as I would have done if it had been Nocturnal Animals with corsets. Perhaps it was the complete lack of familiarity with a film like this which left me on the outside. I understand how Hitchcock works, how Brian De Palma works, how Tom Ford works. I did not get this film.

This may seem like more of a critique upon myself than the film; I wish I could offer more in-depth analysis but everything about this film works in theory. The acting, the direction, the writing, the cinematography, all come together to create a very cohesive and stylish piece. But amongst its chill of cruelty and nastiness something was missing, so much so that even if I did love it for its theoretical detail, I don’t think I would ever watch it again. Something like the incredible Christine, which starred Rebecca Hall, covered a similarly difficult story of a woman under tremendous social pressures. However, Christine has a passion to it which I felt this film lacked. Even in Lady Macbeth‘s passionate love scenes I felt at a distance, more like I was observing a scientific experiment than a piece of entertainment, and if nothing else, entertainment is the aim of the cinema. Even Schindler’s List is entertainment! The fact that it moves and shocks you is proof of that. This film felt like an entertainment black hole, where you simply observes events without feeling anything for them. Perhaps this is to simulate the numbness of the lead character, but it just left me out in the cold.

Image source: Independent.co.uk