With a giveaway title, we were anticipating a mound of deep dark moment although not quite the deluge delivered by this masochistically macabre & perverse period piece, initial innocence of the main character & the serene setting in which she sat shrouding her sexually & chauvinistic deceptive deviousness, but did “Lady Macbeth” score superbly with is shocking scenes or was the storyline a sequence of steps too far?
We have to admit having a penchant for a period piece and a soft spot for stunning scenery settings, the days of Merchant & Ivory with the likes of “Room With A View”, “Howards End” and, a particular favourite of ours, “Remains of The Day”, terrific purple patch time for these sorts of screenplays, while in “The Madness of King George” & “Another Country” among many more examples of ilk in our DVD collection, even fantastic folly film “A Clandestine Marriage” still solely on VHS, we definitely delight in these types of timepieces. Yet while we have dipped into Dickensian drama’s, “Oliver Twist” a Christmas Eve staple, we have never sat comfortably with Shakespeare, our English Literature education exposing us to “Midsummer Night’s Dream” & “Twelfth Night”, we never got into the heavier more hard hitting works of his, putting our hands up in knowing little of “Hamlet”, “King Lear” or “Othello”, not to mention many more, his style of writing & phrasing simply not resonating with us enough to inspire any substantive interest. So, it will come as no surprise that we are not familiar with the Scottish play, as it is referred to by stage actors & hands, thus being a little sceptical of adding “Lady Macbeth” to our list of must watches when it popped up on the cinema circuit, even the trailer not tempting us in much, the stark nature of the scenes selected for this teaser, turning us off rather than on. However, finding a window in our world and having seen a friend & reliable screenplay source flood it with adoring admiration, we decided to satisfy our ever-growing curiosity and plump for this picture, especially given that the film we had seen the previous day had fallen a little too flat for our liking, plus with the expectation that, as our pal had described it, this film was a cross between “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” & “Madame Bovary”. But in so doing, did our curiosity proverbially kill the cat, were we impressed by this prolific period piece or did the giveaway in the title expose the macabre in “Lady Macbeth” and if so, to just what extent?
Well, given the incredible impact this masochistic & perverse motion picture made on us, it is difficult to know exactly where to start in assessing what is, without doubt, a callously cold piece of cinematography, the lack of any sort of soundtrack (yes it has, as Mark Kermode explains, a soundscape, but is that enough?) for the vast majority of the movie, not helping its cause. Then there is the austere nature of the country house, bare floor boards, sparse furnishings & lack of any creature comforts for the Victoriana era this is set in, adds to the off feel to this film, while only a few scenes in, we witness a bizarre sexual act when the lead female, Catherine (played by Florence Pugh) is ordered to strip naked by her much older husband, Alexander (Paul Hilton) who then proceeds to pleasure himself in a macabre masturbation moment that sets the sexual tone of this sometimes shocking screenplay. But the carnal carry-ons continue as Catherine falls for the new stable hand, Sebastian (played by the delightfully dishy Cosmo Jarvis) and so the affair they have continues unabated but noticed by the black housemaid and by both the absent Alexander & his father, Boris, whose strict treatment of Catherine is revenged in a fatal poisoning, this the first of three murders by Catherine, aka Lady Macbeth, with poor Sebastian as her accomplice. And it is the callous nature of her actions, the masochistic intentions of her husband & father in law, the involvement of other characters in a loose ended strand to the plot, the chilling to the bone feel of the film in amongst some of the steamy lust, but mostly that lack of a soundtrack score that sits this screenplay most uncomfortably with us. Indeed, even the most dramatic scenes of slaying are devoid of music to elevate them and while we get the similarities some have drawn with “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” & “Madam Bovary”, the comparisons flatter to deceive as “Lady Macbeth” is no match for either, moreover it is more akin to the murderous Shakespeare tragedy from which the inspiration is drawn for the novel on which this sordid screenplay is based. So, if masochistically macabre & sexually chauvinistic deceptive deviousness is your bag, this is a film for you, if not, then we suggest avoiding this austere screenplay shocker. (DISCO MATT)