Through hell & high water, I will follow you. To the cross, to the prison, to the grave, to the sky. I’d rather stop you breathing than let you doubt how I feel.
With Lady Macbeth, director William Oldroyd has made a stunning feature debut and Florence Pugh, in her first lead role, has matched if not surpassed him. The story here is archetypal; in rural nineteenth-century England, a young woman finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage and her desires are awakened by a young farmhand she encounters. Things spiral out of control from there. The film is an incredibly brisk 89 minutes, but it doesn’t feel rushed, just focused. The performances are amazing right down the line. Pugh is a naturalistic marvel, refusing to adhere to the usual period movie rules; she slouches about, bites her nails, bites her nails, snickers under her breath and, all in all, communicates a palpable air of rebellion. We get to watch her develop from a stifled and frustrated young woman to a monstrous villain and Pugh is dead on at every turn. It’s a staggering performance and a serious contender for the best female performance I’ve seen all year. Cosmo Jarvis is very good as the object of her desire; at first he seems like a fairly typical “sexy farmhand” but as the film unwinds, his character takes on a lot of depth as he finds himself getting deeper and deeper in over his head. Naomi Ackie is a revelation in a totally surprising role as a canny, but vulnerable maid, Christopher Fairbank is a delight as Pugh’s crotchety father-in-law and Paul Hilton is sleazy and creepy as her sexually inadequate husband (every sexual encounter he has with her in the movie begins with a snarled “Face the wall.”). They all find moments of reality in their characters and they often step away from the stereotypical aspects of their characters in a lot of nice ways. Oldroyd’s direction finds a raw beauty in the starkness of the landscapes and in the dark recesses of the creaky old house where Pugh is trapped. The score by Dan Jones, and the use of sound in general, is atmospheric and minimal. Alice Birch’s script is grim and unflinching and incredibly smart. This is filmmaking that is just operating at superlative levels in every area. It’s a masterful, gripping, unsettling thriller, a movie not to be forgotten; it’s sure to be overlooked in the movie frenzy of 2017, but don’t be one of the unlucky ones who misses it. Lady Macbeth is as seductive, twisted and utterly hypnotic as its namesake. 4 stars.
tl;dr – gripping, gorgeous thriller is superlative in all areas with Florence Pugh’s astoundingly great central performance leading the way into a dark and unsettling film experience. 4 stars.