Lady Macbeth

Katherine is a young bride, sold into marriage by her father and sent to live with her new husband and father-in-law in 19th century rural England (I mean, she doesn’t time travel there, it’s a period film).

It’s hard to say who is more cruel, the husband who “cannot” sleep with her but likes to masturbate to the sight of her behind, or the father-in-law who continually admonishes her for failing in her wifely duties. Both men are cold and heartless so let’s just say Katherine isn’t exactly heartbroken when they both leave her “alone” at home. “Alone” in the 19th century of course means there are still dozens of servants 06-lady-mackbeth.w710.h473(slaves? I think maybe yes – employees are much less likely to put up with the flogging and being locked in cellars and such) about, and eyes are everywhere. Sebastian, a new groom, catches Katherine’s attention, and as they ignite a passionate affair, she actually seems to come alive for the first time. But then her father in law returns and everything goes to hell. You might guess the nature of this hell by the name the film (and the novel on which it is based) is given. Lady Macbeth will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

I’ve heard the film described as a character study and I’m not sure I agree – for much of the film, Katherine’s emotions are impenetrable, to us and possibly even to her. She seems almost to have gone numb to the degrading circumstances of her life. Florence Pugh gives an absolutely riveting performance but I’m not sure we ever come to know Katherine’s inner workings or her motivations. What we do get is a taste of the subordination of women of the time. The oppression is as weighty as Katherine’s voluminous skirts, and it weighs everyone down. As she escapes from under the thumb of her horrid life, Katherine then becomes horrid herself. The movie burns with sex and murder but is icy in its remove.

Lady Macbeth is measured and quiet. It’s an unusual film and it’s not going to be for everyone. What I enjoyed most is that it dismantles the romanticism of other period films – “corset films” as Keira Knightly, who has built her career on them, calls them. The horse-drawn carriage rides through fields untouched by time look awfully nice, but the truth is these times were still savage for anyone not a wealthy white man. Lady Macbeth may be a “lady” in name, but Katherine is a sociopath by circumstance. It doesn’t excuse what she does, but it does make you wonder whether you mightn’t have done it yourself.

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10 thoughts on “Lady Macbeth

  1. Katrina Morrison

    Yikes! I want to watch; then, I am afraid to watch. It sounds like I might feel the oppression going on in Lady Macbeth. You are right in saying this might not be for everyone. I am starting to feel oppressed right now just thinking about this one LOL
    I’ll watch it 🤔

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  2. Film & Nuance

    I loved it for its darkness, tone and they way it was shot. And I really liked how you said if you wonder if it could be you because the film really questioned our boundaries of morality. A beautiful yet unsettling film and it’s one of my favourites of the year. Great review Jay!

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    1. Jay Post author

      It does push buttons, and I think people will have different reactions to it since we all bring something different into it. And that’s the mark of good art, even if it’s not pleasant.

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  3. calensariel

    Love it! This one sounds right up my alley! (Hm… Perhaps I’m repressed, too, and that’s why these films appeal to me? Or I’m a little slow on the uptake and the pacing is just right! LOL)

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