Lady Macbeth Review

It is a hundred and fifty years since Russian author Nikolai Leskov published Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in Dostoevsky’s Epoch magazine, and adaptations of the novella have since been many and varied, but William Oldroyd’s visceral adaptation is the first to relocate the action to north- east England, in this startlingly original reinvention of period drama.

Alice Birch’s screenplay strips Leskov’s narrative down to its bare bones, and makes some bold and imaginative changes. Dispensing with backstory and significant exposition, the film instead focuses on the corrosive effect of repression and cruelty. As Katherine is to driven to breaking point by a vicious father-in-law and a husband consumed with impotent rage, her atypical response is both terrifying and exhilarating. That Katherine maintains our sympathies for as long as she does, despite her increasingly aberrant behaviour, is down to a superb central performance from Florence Pugh, ably supported by Cosmo Jarvis as her lover and reluctant accomplice.

Those coming to Lady Macbeth expecting shades of Lady Chatterley’s Lover might be disoriented by how quickly our eponymous protagonist loses her moral compass, turning the film into something closer to Straw Dogs, but there’s no denying it’s a bracing ride, and one which culminates in a precisely crafted and satisfyingly nasty conclusion.