In a film that has NOTHING to do with Shakespeare, young British actress Florence Pugh strongly stakes her claim on an Oscar Nomination for Best Actress. It’s the first great performance of 2017. And what a welcome thrill it is to see a comely, new, powerful actress tear up the screen to pieces, “to very rags” as Shakespeare would say.
Pugh’s Lady Macbeth is right up there with the powerful, royal, screen queens of all time, though this is strangely based on a Russian novel “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” by Nikolai Leskov. And her character is called Catherine. but make no mistake, she is the queen of all she surveys.
But here her domain is reduced to a remote farm in Northern England. It could be Scotland. Catherine certainly likes to stride about boldly on the marshlands, which may be subbing for the moors of Scotland.
Her rushing to the marshes is the first indication of the headstrong, frightening woman is to become. A demure bride at first, she is a virgin when her she is sold into an arranged, loveless marriage to a man 20 years older than she, at the beginning of the film. You can tell by her blazing, beautiful eyes, she just hates him, and hates every minute of her having to subjugate herself to his iron will.
She also strangely has a Black maidservant beautifully played by Naomie Ackie, who may be looking at an Oscar nomination herself. Meek, as opposed to her mistress’ willful destructiveness, she is driven to be mute, by the horror of all she surveys Catherine doing. And it is quite horrible. Just what the oppressed Catherine does to get her revenge on all the men who have thwarted her on her way to total domination is spoiler-rific. But suffice it to say, it is blood-curdling and shocking enough to drive her kind maid Anna, into utter speechlessness.
With the simplest pf dialogue and also of locales and costumes, eschewing the extravagances, which are the norm of bodice-rippers, director William Oldroyd impresses with every sparse, and then bloody take.
Cosmo Jarvis is the hunky catalyst that unleashes the repressed Catherine desires. And yes, “Lady Macbeth” is as hot as it is bloody. You’re in for a roller-coaster ride of passion from one end of the erotic scale to the other as Catherine’s passions become unleashed.
Finally, a serious Oscar contender is on 2017’s VERY sparse table.