REVIEW: Lady Macbeth

29 07 2017

Spoiler alert: don’t expect any portion of the Scottish play in William Oldroyd’s “Lady Macbeth.” The title of this Victorian-era chamber drama assigns the characteristics of the Bard’s villainous character to Florence Pugh’s Katherine. She’s a young woman who exerts more agency than Lady Macbeth, although she exhibits significantly less guilt for her transgressions.

As the new wife of a landed gent, Katherine serves the same purpose for her husband as Internet porn does for today’s men. She’s an object of his sexual desires but never an active participant, left merely as a spectator to his getting off. With no place to go in this suffocating matrimony, Katherine begins to seek strange release valves – chiefly, in the passionate embrace of a farmworker Sebastian who she witnesses beating her maid.

“Lady Macbeth” bears witness to the alternating power and powerlessness of the white woman in polite society. She can willfully exert force over domestics, and she often twists that to satisfy urges both sexual and violent. Yet she’s still hemmed in by cultural expectations and that damned patriarchy, which is quick to quash her initiative.

Most of these observations made themselves clear to me within the first 20 minutes or so of “Lady Macbeth.” It is, to borrow a phrase John Oliver once used to describe Donald Trump, “an open book that doesn’t have many interesting words in it.” Oldroyd fits his film with the cinematic equivalent of a corset. It’s rigid and composed with strictly limited capacity for movement. He establishes the film’s mood and thematic underpinnings quickly, but he never develops them in any meaningful way over the course of 90 minutes. The ending has a nice kick, although it’s hardly enough to overcome the taxing monotony that precedes it. B-

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