Lady Macbeth: Boredom and Death in Steamy Period Drama


  • Lady Macbeth, BBC Films
Among other chilling reactions you may experience after the viewing of Lady Macbeth, the new period drama from rookie director William Oldroyd that opens Friday at the Cedar Lee, is that it's one of the starker depictions of boredom available in recent cinema.

Katherine (Florence Pugh), is a young bride sold into marriage and then essentially quarantined in the English country home of her new husband Alexander (Paul Hilton). The camera often finds her sitting quietly on a sofa or chair, alone. She has been dressed for the day and presents as a kind of doll, hands on her lap, eyes fighting to stay awake, head gently bobbing. (See image above.)

Her living situation is torture. It just sucks. In an early scene, Alexander orders her to undress before bed. He looks at her disapprovingly after she's disrobed, then gets under the sheets and turns out the lamp. Katherine has no friends, no activities, no joys. Her stepfather Boris (Christopher Fairbank) is a revolting dude, an Argus Filch with cleaner clothes. Mid-meal, he's always insisting that Katherine perform various wifely duties, and he'd always got crud on his lips — a real sicko. Katherine's only respite from this agony of ennui are her long and windy nature walks, during which the camera, untethered now, follows behind at a jaunty clip.

Something snaps in Katherine when she comes upon a worker named Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) abusing a maid (Naomi Ackie). A steamy love affair develops. And while Alexander is away on business, lust consumes Katherine, turning her crazed and reckless, terrifying even Sebastian with her passion. When Alexander returns, Katherine demonstrates just how far she's willing to go to preserve what she wants (very far).

Based on the novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov, the film is dark and sometimes horrifying, foremost for its understated qualities. The worst scenes are filmed with minimal movement, minimal sound. During one murder — naturally it comes to that — Katherine suffocates her victim while Sebastian holds him down. The camera is at their back, unmoving. No one says a word.    

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