Lady Macbeth review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Lady Macbeth is a period piece that is sadly more relevant today than that of its novella source from the 1800s. There’s hatred within the picture that brews and bubbles up throughout, only to be locked into a quiet box of uneasy contentment by the end. It’s a chilling film for how its stuffy nature of maintaining a certain sense of dignity and dominance results in a drama of troubling romances and even more troubling murder. It’s this unflinching aspect of the dishonest and disgraceful that makes the film exceptionally chilling.
Katherine (Florence Pugh) is trapped in a loveless marriage to a richer, older man, Alexander, on his expensive rural English estate. Her days are spent in quiet, going through the long process of getting dressed, only to attend dinner parties where she is forbidden to talk to anyone. When night falls, she is expected to undress so that Alexander can merely look at her and go to sleep. There is no romance presence; the only dignity maintained through shut lips and unquestioning obedience. Any speaking out of line and Katherine will be disciplined, the kind she is familiar with when she can’t bear children.
It’s only natural that she could only take so much of this before she snaps. She releases her sexual tension on Sebastian, one of the stable hands. It’s partially out of boredom but also out of rebellion, watching how the men of the stables seem to have all the fun with her maid Anna while she remains locked in the house like a treasure gathering dust. Sex follows because there’s nothing else to do when life becomes so tiresome that even discipline behind closed doors is so common that Katherine hardly bats an eye.
Sexual release quickly turns into violence in the form of poison, beatings, and suffocation. Katherine and Sebastian want their love to survive, but in order to do that within such a strict and stuffy society, they have to be brutally vicious. This means that many murders must be committed and covered up for the sake of maintaining their romance. There’s no happy ending here. Sure, Boris and Alexander will be toppled for the toxic patriarchy they enforce, but at what cost? Katherine’s crusade for freedom and power becomes so bloody that she’s blinded more by what she has to do than what she is actually doing. She doesn’t see herself killing a kid but burying the evidence that threatens her very existence.
Lady Macbeth offers no easy answers to how a woman can assert herself in such a confining and spiritually draining experience. The film ends with quiet once more but a quiet that is still wrapped in beatings, murders, and distrust, with Katherine having thrown so many under the bus to maintain her own power. And in that quiet is an eerie contemplation of how casual dirty deeds can seem when trying to preserve yourself. This makes the film far more than just a female revenge picture but a very disturbing portrait of how the vitriol drenched upon victims becomes contagious, spilling into nastier deeds devoid of empathy. It’s this mood and theme that easily makes Lady Macbeth one of the period pieces of the decade.