Thursday 4 May 2017
UK 2016 Directed by William Oldroyd
UK cinema release print.
Warning: Some spoilers here.
I tend to avoid Shakespeare unless it takes a very different form to the original text but, as it turns out, Lady Macbeth is absolutely nothing to do with the Scottish themed play that the bard in question famously wrote. If you want to see a great cinematic adaptation of that then look no further than Akira Kurosawa’s Throne Of Blood (aka Cob Web Castle). Instead, this movie is an adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s tale, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk and, as such, I still have no idea how well or not it does in the adaptation stakes as I haven’t read that one either. That being said, I am told that the ending of the movie is completely different from the source material, at the very least, so maybe not a good movie for fans of Leskov.
I won’t tell what factors lured me into seeing this but I’m only half glad I went and saw this one in all honesty. Glad because, in terms of cinematography and editing it’s a particularly good movie and not all that glad because, all in all, it’s the specific kind of period piece I usually try to avoid because, as it proved here too, the story and realisation of that story tends to be fairly bland, overall.
The film stars Florence Pugh as a young lady who has been ‘bought’ into a marriage and is forced to live an almost solitary and deadly boring life within the confines of a house run by her new husband and his father. Her days are spent with nothing to do and with her not being allowed out of the house. The director sets up, fairly early, a signature shot of her sitting alone on a sofa, staring straight ahead and trying to stop herself from nodding off as she looks into camera and it’s a shot that he comes back to a few times in the film, almost as a silent comment on the progress of the narrative... which I found kinda clever, actually. The final time this shot is used is one which most people in the audience will certainly ‘feel’ and it’s the very last, perhaps somewhat haunting, shot of the movie.
Anyway, when her husband and father-in-law leave the house for a number of days/weeks to attend to an explosion at a mine they run, she then encounters a servant, played by Cosmo Jarvis, who she starts a passionate love affair with. Well... I say passionate but despite the warning at the start of the film by the BBFC that the film contained strong language, strong violence and strong sex... I could only find some fairly strong language at one point. The sex and violence is really nothing strong in this movie at all and it seems fairly misleading of the BBFC to label up this film as such. This could have been put out as a 12A, in my humble opinion.
Anyway, the inevitable happens and the father-in-law returns home when Florence, driven by her sexual obsession with her new ‘lover’, murders him, leaving her maid permanently mute and she then continues her murder spree when her husband comes home. Eventually murdering, again a few times, to get what she wants before things go just a little pear shaped for her for a short while before her survivor instinct cuts in.
The film is very low key and the story seems the same as many other similar dramas made and remade by people like the BBC over the years (who had a stake in this one)... I’m sure you know the kind I mean. However, the silver lining in Lady Macbeth is the strong cast and crew pulling together to make everything so interesting on a technical level. Pugh and the rest of the actors are, as would be expected, excellent in their roles. This is coupled with some beautiful cinematography and editing at various points in the film.
I couldn’t quite pick up all the director’s intentions but most of the shots set in the husband’s house, which is the majority of the movie, tend to be slowly, precisely moving shots or static set ups. The use of prominent vertical and rectangular patches of tone or colour (such as the sofa) are used to highlight the actors and their place in the overall composition and this works very well. Sometimes they are going back within a frame and through a centrally placed door, for example, and sometimes in the extreme left or right of a frame. In the exterior scenes, however, there seems to be a lot more hand held camera movement and one wonders if this was an artistic decision to show the chaotic nature of life beyond the house or merely a budgetary decision so large areas of tracks for the camera didn’t have to be laid.
Another nice thing the director does is to show the comings and goings from the house in shots of a carriage going either left or right of a static shot. However, the carriages in question are barely seen other than an impression because he takes the shot behind a very dense tangle of trees in the foreground so that the carriage is barely glimpsed other than to give the audience an impression of its direction... which I found both refreshing and effective as a shorthand for the establishing notion of ‘visitors’ to and from the world which Florence Pugh’s character has been thrown into isolation within.
The sound design is also pretty good and perhaps that is what made the BBFC rate the movie in such a way as they have. Dan Jones score is sparsely sported but appropriate and quite effective, especially when used as a warning of approaching danger and certainly when it finally joins the last shot of the movie to highlight for the audience that the film has run its course.
And that’s really all I have to say about this one, I’m afraid. Lady Macbeth isn’t the kind of movie I would usually go and see and although I never found myself bored because the compositions are enough to keep the mind alive, I must say it’s not quite the kind of moviemaking I enjoy although, it has to be said, I would certainly recommend this to anyone who is into those typical classics I mentioned earlier which are remade constantly by various TV and film companies. Not a film for me, I think, but certainly one which deserves to do well and which shows off the technical accomplishments of the director, editor and actors admirably.