In this adaptation of Nikolai Leskov's novella "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk, a 19th century young bride (Florence Pugh) is sold into marriage to a middle-aged man (Paul Hilton). Left alone in a cold house, she soon sparks up a passionate affair with another man ( and becomes a figure of controversy.
Period dramas are often marked by their lavish attention to costumes, setting, production design and music. You only have to look at the likes of Martin Scorsese's Dangerous Liasons, Alan Rickman's A Little Chaos, or Milos Forman's Amadeus to get a sense that the genre is usually built on these pillars. That's not to say that drama and acting doesn't shine through, but they definitely rely on these to give the film a sense of grandeur. With Lady Macbeth, there's none of this. It's stripped back, with a minimalist approach to design, music, and even dialogue.
Lady Macbeth is a film that plays out in the microtransactions between the actors and the sense of foreboding and breathless anticipation. As you watch the film, there's almost a sense that everyone is on the edge of screaming, but it's pulled back to quiet whispers and glares - which gives it much, much more impact. Florence Pugh plays Katherine, a young bride who fills her days with ceremony and ritual and lives a loveless, joyless experience. Sold into marriage and with nothing on the horizon except a cold bed - literally - she finds herself drawn to a groomsman and begins a passionate affair with him to fill her days. At first, you expect the film to focus on the affair, but it soon takes a turn into much more sinister territory and the film shifts gears into something even more darker and violent.
Florence Pugh's performance as Katherine is terrifying and completely devoid of emotion. She's always in control, and only allows her desires to flow out when it serves a purpose - be it lust, anger, whatever. Paul Hilton, who plays the inadequate husband and Christopher Fairbank, who plays his father, are equally and delightfully repulsive in their roles - which makes their eventual fate all the more enthralling. Cosmo Jarvis, meanwhile, who plays Katherine's lover, is an intriguing mixture of mystery and passion - whilst Naomi Ackie's performance as the servant Anna is filled with knowing looks and duplicity.
Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, director William Oldroyd uses an arsenal of sharp, clean imagery and surgically placed music and sound design to generate an atmosphere unlikely any other film. The closest thing you could compare this film to is something like Victorian-era Basic Instinct directed by Nicolas Roeg, but even that's not getting at just how unsettling the film is in places. Throughout the film, you're never entirely certain what's happening in the next scene and the constant pressure is almost exhausting, but it's never boring or anything other than enthralling.