Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lady Macbeth

The title created expectations that were not met: this film is actually based on a Russian short story by Nikolai Leskov. Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth has a powerful role which fades through time: this one is quite the reverse. She marries, and is brought into the house of, her husband (Alexander) and father in law (Boris). The latter has hopes for an heir, but his son (who seems to have had little choice in marrying) has no interest in sex with Katherine: he has her disrobe and stand facing the wall while he finds his own pleasures. It is dad who is in control: he bought Katherine along with a piece of land not fit for a cow to graze on. When he's away, he has Anna, the maid, keep an eye on things. This might be how he finds out that Katherine has brought a groom, Sebastian, into the house and her bed. 

This was a bit disturbing, to be honest: she finds him and a bunch of the other male staff with Anna, who they have suspended (naked) in a sheet. She's giggly so presumably happy with what's going on, but Katherine brings an end to their fun. Sebastian gets quite confrontational with her, and then shows up in her bedroom, coming across as determined to have sex - she resists, he persists, then suddenly she's very much into it. 
It is after Alexander beats Sebastian that Katherine starts to find her power, and a willingness to murder to escape the oppressive pressures of these men. We don't see Boris die: he is locked in a side room while Katherine has breakfast with Anna (I really hate to eat alone she says - one morning, her companion is the cat!). Alexander is away indefinitely, so Sebastian takes up residence. Of course, there wouldn't be much of a movie if that was all, but Alexander does make a reappearance, and this time we do see him die. Sebastian is an OK sort of bloke, so he's less than keen on all of this. Anna's position is more ambiguous: early on, she seemed to take pleasure in causing pain to Katherine, when brushing her hair and tying her into her corset. Handled differently, she might have become an ally for Katherine. 

I'm no sure what legal rules allowed it, but it then emerges that while Alexander has not wanted sex with Katherine, he's not off sex completely. A woman turns up with a grandson, who she claims is Alexander's son and ward - I guess this makes him heir, and it leads to the grandmother and kid moving in, and assuming some control over the house. Up to now, Katherine's actions have sort of been understandable - completely illegal of course, but understandable, as the two men were odious in their own ways and bullied her. But she goes beyond the pale in her next actions: not only does she suffocate the boy but when the doctor finds he was bruised, she accuses Sebastian and Anna of killing him. She possibly suspected them of having an affair, and was brilliant at manipulating elements of the story to convince the authorities.
I've never come across Florence Pugh (who played Katherine): she remains so calm throughout that it gives a quasi-legitimacy to what she does. She was carefully chosen to be someone who did not look like a Lady Macbeth character - young, open and innocent - but who could become someone we'd believe in as a cunning, manipulative murderer. Apparently her next role is as a gothy badgirl wrestler!

Lady Macbeth itself has a bit of a story behind it. It was adapted as an opera by Shostakovich and became very popular - until the night Stalin went to see it. It is credited as being the work which caused him to bring in socialist realism, and it put the composer's life at risk.



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