‘Unsex me here’ was Lady Macbeth’s plea to the spirits for manly ferocity in Shakespeare’s tragedy, but the protagonist of “Lady Macbeth” has no such designs on shedding or subduing her already perfectly potent femininity in William Oldroyd’s austere but thick-blooded drama about a young, 19th century woman’s unrepentant rebellion.
Having been sold in marriage for some land to a wretched and arid family in rural northern England, Katherine (the extraordinary newcomer Florence Pugh) finds herself effectively imprisoned in a drab and creaky house surrounded by foggy, desolate plains. Stay indoors, she’s urged more than once.
Katherine pays these suggestions and others no heed. Out in the fields she scans the landscape like a desperate explorer looking for any sign of life at all.
Among her new family, she might as well be an extraterrestrial. Smooth-skinned, youthful (Pugh was 19 at the time of filming) and fresh, she’s the direct inverse of her craggy and cranky husband Alexander (Paul Hilton) and her even craggier and crankier father-in-law Boris (Christopher Fairbank).
The latter presides miserly over the estate, ordering Katherine to see to her wifely duties with “more vigor.” At one point he admonishes her: “You have no idea of the damage you can cause.”
Katherine, it turns out, is far more aware of her considerable power for destruction than he.
While they are away, she encounters a charismatic and rowdy farmhand named Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis). They promptly commence an affair that begins audaciously and quickly grows ever-more brazen. She makes no effort to hide their very audible lovemaking from the staff — most notably the housemaid Anna (Naomi Ackie) — nor, upon their returns, from the men who would be her keepers. Vigor? She’s got plenty.
This being 1865, certain roadblocks naturally arise for her and Sebastian’s love affair, but none that Katherine can’t resolve with a bit of poison or something rougher. So reckless is she that she hardly bothers to bury the bodies. She’s got better things to do.
The tale, slightly shortened here, comes from Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel “Lady Macbeth and the Mtsensk District,” which Shostakovich turned into an opera in the ‘30s and the Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda adapted into the 1962 film “Siberian Lady Macbeth.” (The Shakespeare reference is in name and bloodiness, but is mostly a jumping off point.)
The direction of Oldroyd, a theater veteran making his feature-film debut, from Alice Birch’s intelligently minimal script is spare and economic. It opens with fleeting images of their wedding and, moving quickly into her new life, largely dispenses with backstory. The house’s exterior we never even see, as an inmate wouldn’t know the outside of his prison.
We also don’t know from where Katherine’s resolute spirit flows, but we know, and feel, the constriction — as tight as the bodice she’s laced into — that suffocates her. The performance by Pugh is calm and certain; it’s one of the more exciting breakthroughs of the year. Her flaunting of propriety is at first almost comic in its boldness, and she carries it to increasingly dark ends.
Questions of her methods surely arise as the body count piles up. But as in a slave rebellion, her righteousness is never in doubt. Team Katherine forever.
“Lady Macbeth,” a Roadside Attractions release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some disturbing violence, strong sexuality/nudity and language.” Running time: 89 minutes. Three stars out of four.
LOS ANGELES: Renee Zellweger, Common, Isabella Rossellini, Simon Baker, Taylor Kinney, and Gus Birney have joined the cast of Sarah Jessica Parker’s romantic drama “Best Day of My Life.”
Andrea Iervolino and Monika Bacardi’s Ambi Group is producing. Parker portrays a jazz vocalist in New York City after she receives a diagnosis that shatters her world and jolts her to her core as she prepare for an upcoming world tour.
Fabien Constant is directing the film from a screenplay written by Laura Eason. Parker will also serve as producer alongside Alison Benson, Iervolino and Bacardi. The movie is being executive produced by Phil Hunt and Compton Ross of Head Gear Films, who are co-financing the film.
Principal photography will begin this week in New York City. Ambi Distribution is handles worldwide sales. CAA is co-repping the film’s domestic sale.
“Best Day of My Life” is the second collaboration between Ambi and Parker, following the romantic comedy “All Roads Lead to Rome” in 2014.
“Sarah Jessica’s intense passion for this film is contagious, and enabled us to bring together such an extraordinary cast,” Iervolino said. “We’re very happy to be doing another movie with her, especially one as layered and poignant as this.”
LOS ANGELES: Lionsgate has set a March 1, 2019, release date for the science-fiction adventure “Chaos Walking,” starring Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley.
Doug Liman is directing while Allison Shearmur and Doug Davison are producers. The screenplay will be written by Patrick Ness, Charlie Kaufman and John Lee Hancock.
The film is based on Patrick Ness’s “Chaos Walking: The Knife of Never Letting Go,” a book that was published in 2008 as the first in a trilogy. It is set in a dystopian world where all living creatures can hear each other’s thoughts.
The book is centered on the only boy in a town of men, who discovers something awful hidden from him and is forced to flee with only his dog. With the townspeople in pursuit, the duo then stumbles upon a strange and silent girl and set off on a white-knuckle journey in which the boy must unlearn everything he knows to figure out who he truly is.
Holland is known for the recent box office hit, “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” He got his start on the West End in the “Billy Elliot” musical. Ridley shot to fame after appearing in “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”
It’s the third title set for March 1, 2019. Fox is launching police thriller “The Force” and Universal has set “How to Train Your Dragon 3” on that date. (Agencies)
By Jake Coyle