Florence Pugh, Christopher Fairbank, Cosmo Jarvis
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…the whole adds up to rather less than the sum of its parts.
This film is based on the 1865 Russian novella Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov. The story has been transposed to north-eastern England, but it’s still set in the 19th century, with the prevalent oppression inducing a feeling of what might be called anti-nostalgia in the viewer. Geography aside it’s a fairly faithful version, but it’s not a very memorable one.
The titular ‘Lady’ is Katherine, a young woman who has been cruelly wed – by arrangement – to the monstrous Boris (Christopher Fairbank). They live in a remote and large but austerely furnished mansion, along with Boris’s tyrannical father who effectively rules the roost and is at least as repellent as him, and at first, we feel nothing but sympathy for the hapless Katherine. She becomes attracted to a worker on the estate, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), and without giving anything away it would be a massive understatement to say that she proceeds to forfeit the high moral ground. What follows is intense, stark and very occasionally gripping in a D.H. Lawrence/Thomas Hardy sort of way, but after reaching a plateau it becomes tedious. And it doesn’t help that, with the exception of the black servant Anna (Naomi Ackie), none of the characters is sympathetic.
Lady Macbeth’s greatest strength is striking and painterly cinematography, both inside the mansion and out in the wilds, and there are a few particularly beautifully composed and symmetrical shots. Florence Hugh’s acting is impressive too, and all the main players are good. But it’s not really enough, and the whole adds up to rather less than the sum of its parts.