In Lady Macbeth, elements of both sexism and feminism are at play in the British drama.
Directed by William Oldroyd from a screenplay written by Alice Birch, the film stars Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, and Christopher Fairbank. The film is based on Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov.
Set in 1865 England, 17-year-old Katherine (Florence Pugh) is stuck in a loveless, arranged marriage to Alexander (Hilton), a man who is over twice her age and treats her like he owns her. Viewers will soon learn that there’s no love for her husband or father-in-law, Boris (Fairbank). Both of them display an epic amount of sexism in the way they treat Katherine. Even on their wedding night, Alexander makes no attempt at making love to Katherine. Why does Boris pay a dowry to Katherine’s father when Alexander clearly has no wish to make love to her? It makes zero sense and so you root for Katherine to rise up against them.
After their wedding, Alexander makes it clear that Katherine stay inside. Anna (Ackie) wakes and dresses Katherine daily despite the growing boredom and frustration.
Following an explosion at Boris’ collieries, Boris instructs Alexander to take care of it while he sets off for London. Boris, not Alexander, instructs Katherine to produce a heir, be faithful to Alexander, and stay indoors. She does nothing of the sort. Instead, Katherine finds the love that she’s been missing in the form of Sebastian (Jarvis), an employee on the family’s estate. She’ll stop at nothing just so the two will end up together.
Boris gets abusive when he finds out about their affair. Katherine soon plots his demise. When Alexander returns, he questions her behavior and he attacks Sebastian. This leads Katherine to kill him. Two down.
Soon, a mystery women, Agnes (Golda Rosheuvel), arrives at the estate to meet with Katherine and let her know that Alexander had a son, Teddy (Anton Palmer), with her daughter. Hiding her affair from Agnes and Teddy, Katherine sends Sebastian off to the stables while she plots a scheme. She discovers that she’s pregnant around this time, too. Teddy, though, runs away following an argument and it’s Sebastian who discovers him at a waterfall. He could have drowned him in a moment but chose to take him back to the house.
“In literature of that period,” Oldroyd says, “Women like Katherine traditionally suffer in silence, fade away, or commit suicide. But here we have a young protagonist who fights for her independence, decides her own fate in a bloodthirsty way.”
The filmmakers decided to make some changes in their adaptation of the novella. They invented Anna and changed Katherine’s fate.
A veteran of theater, Oldroyd directed two shorts before he making Lady Macbeth his first feature film. Lady Macbeth was previously selected for the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, and New Directors, New Films 2017.
Roadside Attractions opened Lady Macbeth in select theaters on July 14, 2017. The film expanded into 35 locations on July 21, 2017.