Review / ‘Lady Macbeth’ (MA) *** and a half

TO create the screenplay for director William Oldroyd’s feature debut, Alice Birch went to a much-filmed 19th-century novel by Russian writer Nikolai Leskov.

The resulting film is an ensemble piece for five.

Florence Pugh plays Katherine, alone except for a domineering father-in-law and servants in a well-founded house on a bleak moor near a Scottish lake. Her husband is away in London. Katherine isn’t having much fun. Her loyal personal maid Anna (Naomi Ackie) turns a reluctant blind eye when Katherine takes farm hand Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) into her arms and then her bedroom.

When that happens, father-in-law becomes even more of a hindrance and it’s not long before something nasty in the coffee sends him to an early grave. When husband unexpectedly arrives home and catches the lovers in flagrante delicto, he too has to go, as you might expect. While he fights with Sebastian, Katherine wallops him several times with a heavy candlestick. That’ll do it every time.

One of the dead man’s former inamoratas arrives with a small boy and a document claiming his right to inherit the farm. More deaths. The police take Sebastian and Anna away in manacles. Katherine’s periods have ceased some time ago, She sits alone in the house. It’s hers. What next? Finis

The filmgoer may be excused for wondering what justifies putting all that murder on the screen. Fundamentally, it’s a horror film with enough style to attract and hold the attention of filmgoers who would normally avoid horror films. The pace is unhurried. The tensions build slowly, without exaggeration or bluster. We come away aware of having seen a wicked woman getting away with it.

At Palace Electric

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