Acclaimed theatre director William Oldroyd relocates Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk to 19th-century England, in this Gothic tale about a young woman trapped in a marriage of convenience whose passionate affair unleashes a maelstrom of murder and mayhem on a country estate.
William Oldroyd has built a reputation in the theatre, particularly as Director in Residence at London's Young Vic theatre, where, amongst other things, he staged Frank McGuinness' daring update of Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts. Now Oldroyd makes a seamless transition to filmmaking with his beautifully controlled adaptation of Nikolai Leskov's famous Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, the source material for Shostakovich's opera of the same name.
Yet "theatrical" is not a word one would use to describe Oldroyd's debut feature film. His work with the cast is faultless, but what's most striking about Lady Macbeth is its sheer formal beauty. This is a film for anyone who loves to see a camera in exactly the right position, moving in exactly the right way.
Its story concerns Lady Katherine (Florence Pugh), a young misfit in the stifling social atmosphere of Victorian England. Locked in a marriage of convenience to a much older man, marooned on an estate amidst the northern heaths of County Durham, Katherine strains against the social mores of the time. Lectured at by the local priest, tormented by a father-in-law who expects her to provide an heir, she paces her constrictive world like a wild animal looking for escape. She soon finds an outlet for her passions in Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a young groom who is one of her husband's many servants. Those passions could be their undoing.
Portrayed by Pugh with an almost primal fervour, Katherine is a powerful revision of the Gothic heroine. Lady Macbeth's strange tale of love and betrayal revolves around her force of will, and Oldroyd takes hold of this topsy-turvy drama with the authority of a master storyteller. A brilliant filmmaker is born.