Lady Macbeth

This chilling debut film by William Oldroyd – loosely based on Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov – contains a star-making turn by Florence Pugh as Katherine, a scheming young woman rebelling against the older men she has been forced to live with: one her cruel, miserable husband Alexander (Paul Hilton), the other her cruel, miserable father-in-law Boris (Christopher Fairbank). Set in Northumberland in the 1865, there are fleeting glimpses of the bleak-but-beautiful surrounding moors, but for the most part Katherine is confined to her large house, in which she creates a testy relationship with the family’s black servant Anna (Naomie Ackie) and enters into a passionate affair with cheeky stable boy Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) while her husband is away. We realise early on that this won’t end well, and Sebastian becomes the Macbeth to Katherine’s Lady Macbeth, helping her to carry out some really evil acts, though in each case it is Katherine who comes up with the ideas and Katherine who sees things through to the bitter end. It’s a superbly-acted film that has you gripped from the first moment to the last, and it comments smartly on society at the beginning of the Victorian era, confidently but subtly making its points about prejudices relating to race, class and gender. Alice Birch’s screenplay is very impressive and Ari Wegner’s cinematography emphasises the austerity of the house, where one solitary bed seems to offer a glimmer of comfort. (****)