We gave it a C+
Those expecting another date with Banquo, Macduff, and the gang are sure to be disappointed. After all, theater director William Oldroyd’s feature debut isn’t based on Shakespeare and his scheming Queen of Scotland, but rather Russian author Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. There are some other causes for disappointment, too. Aside from featuring a ferocious star-minting performance from the British actress Florence Pugh (2015’s The Falling), this is an emotionally schizophrenic Victorian tragedy that starts out as a welcome feminist cri de coeur, only to spiral into violent nihilism — think of it as Masterpiece Theatre meets Monster.
With the kind of expressive eyes that seem to size up the world and find it lacking, Pugh’s Katherine has essentially been sold into servitude through an arranged and loveless marriage to a sadistic oaf (Paul Hilton). Forced to stay indoors cinched into a corset, Katherine rebels against society and her spouse by launching into an overheated affair with the cocky stable hand (Cosmo Jarvis). Once awakened, she becomes insatiable — not just for sexual pleasure but for liberation, regardless of whoever’s unlucky enough to stand in her way. There’s a provocative idea at the center of Oldroyd’s beautifully photographed film — repression exploding into madness and violence. But as the body count rises, Lady Macbeth loses its secret weapon: sympathy. C+