A CHILLING PERIOD PIECE DRAMA
Intro: Lady Macbeth first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September ’16 where it opened to rave reviews from across the board. Most who saw the movie at the premiere were largely impressed with the film overall and so I was puzzled to see that the folks at Roadside Attractions (in the US) and D Films (in Canada) didn’t go with a Fall/Winter 2016 release to qualify the film for Awards Season glory.
Maybe they felt like they had too much competition on their hands and that the title would go unnoticed among the likes of so many other films or maybe they just didn’t see it as an Awards Season Contender, who knows? Regardless, the film is finally receiving a North American run all of these months later and I finally got my chance to check it out recently…
Before I dive in with my review, though, here’s a brief plot synopsis…
Plot: In this adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s novella “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District,” a 19th century young bride is sold into marriage to a middle-aged man. (D Films)
Review: William Oldroyd’s feature debut: “Lady Macbeth” is a dark, gloomy and at times really tense and even uncomfortable film too. This is a seductive and really twisted tale with lots of sex, violence and ultimately murders which doesn’t move in the way that I thought it was going to. There are some pretty big shock moments throughout and unlike most films of it’s nature: there is no one clear character to root for here. This is one of the few films of 2017 that makes such a move and it’s bold and most certainly leaves room for some good conversation afterwards.
With it’s confined setting – the film does plays out more like a stage play than a full theatrical production at times and it does take a few minutes to grab you but those are two of few flaws that are easy to overlook from a film of this nature. Once I got sucked in to the world and the characters that accompanied it, I was hooked from beginning to end. It’s a really unpredictable film and without diving into spoiler territory – I will say that this film takes a lot of unexpected twists and turns as it moves along and it makes for an exciting watch. The line between right and wrong is most certainly debatable here.
To add to it’s praise: The Costumes, Production Design, Direction and Performances are all more than solid here and it’s really quite impressive that this is Oldroy’s first feature film. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see some Nominations for the film’s costume (Holly Waddington) and production designers come Awards Season time. While it’s still really early for bold predictions I will say that this is some of the best work I’ve seen in those two departments all year and those involve deserve the early recognition as such. There isn’t really much of a score here but Oldroyd allows for the atmosphere and the outside world to become it’s own character with the sounds of nature playing a large part here instead of a true score of sorts. It works but I think a more traditional score might have been the more effective option here.
As for the screenplay it comes from first time feature penner: Alice Birch and she mixes modern dialogue *to make the film more accessible to a modern audience* with some of the slang and vocabulary from the featured time period which makes for a welcome mix. Some history bluffs may not like this but I didn’t mind because as mentioned it’s a more accessible film this way and I had no problems trying to figure out what characters were saying at any given time thanks to this approach.
Now, let’s talk performances. As you can see from the headline of this review, there’s one actor who overshadows the rest. The talent I’m speaking of is: Florence Pugh and while you may not have heard of her yet, I assure you that you soon will. She absolutely steals the show here with a quiet, yet effective lead performance. While the rest of the actors/actresses involved turn in some good work here too she completely blows them out of the way. What’s most impressive, however, is that this is only her second feature role to date. This is most definitely a performance to seek out. It’s not what I would consider to be Oscar Worthy or anything like that but it’s a sign of up and coming talent.
The only thing that didn’t really work for me was the relationship that blossomed between Lady Macbeth and Land Worker: Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) – it’s one for which comes out of nowhere and didn’t really feel right. I don’t want to spoil anything though so you’ll have to check it out to see what I mean in this regard. Other than that – all of the performances are really strong. Next to Pugh, Naomi Ackie gives an emotionally powerful yet quiet performance as the housemaid that also deserves some praise. She was great in a role where she was barely allowed to speak unless spoken to.
My Verdict: Stars 3.0 out of 5.0 – Dark and Gloomy, “Lady Macbeth” is a quiet, yet effective period piece thriller that showcases some great performances and impressive production values from across the board. Young actress: Florence Pugh is the film’s standout here as a star in the making and this film looks like it will be the one to launch off her career. Likewise, the film really nails the look and tone that Oldroyd was going for. We are put into 19th Century England with impressive production and costume design from across the board.
Everything fits into place nicely here and the impressive cinematography and beautiful landscapes make this one an easy watch. In terms of flaws, I had trouble buying into one of the film’s most important relationships and that’s a big problem on it’s own. Likewise, the film does feel a bit longer than it actually is and it drags a bit in the middle. These flaws aren’t enough to distract from what I would still consider to be a good film but they definitely brought my grade down substantially. Thankfully, more of the film works than what doesn’t and this film is full of exciting twists and turns throughout and it makes for a good watch overall.
In Conclusion: It isn’t the Must-See Indie of the Summer nor does it demand the big screen treatment, but if you enjoy films like this one than I would say: Go Check it Out. It’s one of few adult dramas currently in theaters and it’s a fun ride to go on too. From here, I will eagerly await Oldroyd’s next feature and hope he only improves as a director with future projects.
Entering it’s Second Week of Canadian Release this Weekend: “Lady Macbeth” is Now Playing on Select Screens in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal from the folks over at D Films. Stay Tuned as the film continues to expand and play across the Country in the Coming Weeks.