12 March 2021
Unrelentingly bleak, Lady Macbeth is one of those films that doesn’t let go its grip on you the moment it kicks off. Set in rural Cumbria of the 19th century, Elizabeth (Floren Pugh, excellent) has been sold off to a wealthy household as a wife. She starts living in the shadow of her dour father-in-law and her sexually-repressed husband, with a maid her only real human companion. Her husband’s inability (or unwillingness) to consumate their marriage and the exceedingly isolated life that she is now leading gets disrupted when she falls for one of her husband’s workers, Cosmo Jarvis’s Sebastian in full Heathcliff mode. What starts off as a tryst when her husband is away, turns to something darker and uncontrollable very quickly.
Although the film shies away from delving too deep into its characters, there us an assuredness about it that makes it all the more difficult to look away. It would have been easy to go down the route of Elizabeth’s sexual frustration and draw the point of the reprieve she gets in the moments of intimacy with Sebastian. But it is far more subtle than all of that. As Elizabeth starts losing her grip on the events, what unfolds gets more bewildering. You know there isn’t going to be a happy ending here.
Arguably it’s slightly too cold and distant to really care for anyone until the very end, there is no doubt that Lady Macbeth gets a lot of things right. If for nothing else, it should be lauded as the film that really broke Pugh’s career — easily one of the finest actors of our time.