A story we have seen before. A period piece featuring a feisty young woman forced to be with a man she does not love, and her journey to be free. Lady Katherine of William Oldroyd’s LADY MACBETH certainly fits that mould and then some. An adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, the film and book get their namesake from one of Shakespeare’s most notorious female characters; this should give you some idea of what lies ahead of Lady Katherine and those around her.
LADY MACBETH follows Katherine (Florence Pugh) as she tries to set herself free from a loveless marriage to Alexander, and the lengths she will go to to ensure that freedom. We see her fall in love (or should I say lust) with stable hand Sebastian, and seeks to destroy all that will get in the way of their happiness. This is not your average period drama, this is certainly a dark and murderous tale about how the constraints placed on a woman in those times can only lead to terrible ends.
The film jumps open at the wedding of Katherine and Alexander, and aside from one remark by him about her dowry we do not get to to know much of Lady Katherine’s backstory – but then again we don’t need it. She is representative of a much greater crisis of femininity, or the lack of understanding of what femininity truly is. We are looking at the subordination of women in the 19th Century and the effect this is having on them. The majority of shots of Katherine feature her wedding ring – reinforcing her entrapment and reminding the audience that she is property, a possession bought for a small amount and a piece of land.
Katherine is not even allowed outside, she has no space to breathe. We see her thirst for freedom explode on screen and as the film progresses and darkens in tone Katherine only grows stronger. The power that she gains from her own privilege is also incredibly alarming, she assumes her role in the household when she needs to, when it suits her, understanding the power her title gives her. Her relationship with Sebastian really shows this – she is not interested in love, merely authoritative power. This quest for sexual freedom and agency is sadly still a marker for women today, making this film not only enjoyable but relevant.
It is always believed that female characters must be likeable, unlike many male characters – they must either be somewhat redemptive or get their comeuppance in some way. Katherine certainly has a journey but it is not rounded at the end and she does not receive any retribution for the acts she commits, she receives freedom. She is not maternal, she is not caring for the other women in her life. She is mean and brave and strong. She is a truly admirable nasty woman.
Final Word: Warps the idea of femininity. She’s unlikable and I like it.
Lady Macbeth is in cinemas Friday 28th April 2017