William Oldroyd's feature length debut feature following an extensive career in opera, is an adaptation by Alice Birch of a 'Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov. They have transplanted the story to 1865 Victorian England where women were marginalised.
Katherine (Florence Pugh) has been bought to be a wife to an unlovable coal miner's son, Alexander (Paul Hilton) who is drab and hates his tyrannical father, Boris (Christopher M). Katherine is a much younger women in comparison to her new husband, and in the first twenty minutes she is treated as more of a prisoner as she wanders around this ghastly home with no means of escape - no piano to tinkle and no book to read unless she is partial to the bible, which she is not.
One morning she walks across the Pennines and feels free in touch in nature returning to a period before she had been purchased. She even has no social outlet except her black maid, Anna (Naomi Aike), who is not a confidant more a rival.
When both men of the house are away on business, Florence hears noises from the stables and Anna being victimised by the stable hands and servants. Upon saving her from further embarrassment, Florence asserts a flirtation with a new groomsman, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) which ultimately becomes a dangerous affair which will have serious consequences on the household.
Once the men return, and it becomes clear that Florence has been sleeping around, she slowly morphs into an angel of death on all those who will keep her and Sebastian apart. This leads to moments that are both harrowing and traumatic to witness yet perhaps due to the gothic nature of the period it encapsulates the psychology of the protagonist feeling imprisoned.
Oldroyd marks himself as a talent due to the deftness of shot composition coupled with some sumptuous cinematography by Ari Wegner showcasing the beauty of Northern England landscapes.
Along with some intense performance especially by Pugh who benefits from the chronological order of shooting, her development of the character arc from naïve ingénue to malevolent femme fatale is delicately handled in a production of genuine efficiency.
Lady Macbeth is distributed by Altitude Films and is out now.