Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Lady Macbeth’s director on morality, animals, and his star Florence Pugh

Smart about evil: matrimony, misery, murder

Lady Macbeth: Comedies end with a marriage. This film begins with one. Draw your own conclusions.
Lady Macbeth: Comedies end with a marriage. This film begins with one. Draw your own conclusions.

William Oldroyd’s elegantly executed debut feature Lady Macbeth may prove to be the sort of quiet breakout for star Florence Pugh that Martha Marcy May Marlene was for Elizabeth Olsen (as opposed to the more explosive entrance that Jennifer Lawrence made in Winter’s Bone).

Movie

Lady Macbeth ***

thumbnail

Director William Oldroyd’s elegantly executed debut feature <em>Lady Macbeth</em> may prove to be the sort of quiet breakout for star Florence Pugh that <em>Martha Marcy May Marlene</em> was for Elizabeth Olsen (as opposed to the more explosive entrance that Jennifer Lawrence made in <em>Winter’s Bone</em>. Pugh’s Katherine, like Olsen’s Martha, must entrance the audience instead of simply convincing it or winning it over, and she succeeds, overcoming the need for backstory, sympathy, or even straight-arrow consistency of character. Her version of the lethal Lady is both more passive and more active than her Shakespearean namesake (the story here is an adaptation of the Russian novella <em>Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District</em>): she is more driven to than driving toward her murderous acts, but she also doesn’t waste time trying to convince someone else (e.g., her lover) to do the deed. She is presented with a problem: a wretched husband who will not assist her in her matrimonial duty to produce an heir for her even more wretched father-in-law. She is also presented with an opportunity: an ardent young servant who knows a good thing when he sees it. And so she takes the necessary steps. It’s not a complicated story, but there are complications, both external and internal. And while this is no morality tale, it doesn’t pretend to take place outside the moral universe. It’s smart about evil, especially about the way it tends to radiate. Beautifully, starkly photographed by Ari Wegner.

Find showtimes

Pugh’s Katherine, like Olsen’s Martha, must entrance the audience instead of convincing it or winning it over, and she succeeds, overcoming the need for backstory, sympathy, or even straight-arrow consistency of character. Her version of the lethal Lady is both more passive and more active than her Shakespearean namesake (the story here is an adaptation of the Russian novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District): she is more driven to than driving toward her murderous acts, but she also doesn’t waste time trying to convince someone else (e.g., her lover) to do the deed.

She is presented with a problem: a wretched husband who will not assist her in her matrimonial duty to produce an heir for her even more wretched father-in-law. She is also presented with an opportunity: an ardent young servant who knows a good thing when he sees it. And so she takes the necessary steps. It’s not a complicated story, but there are complications, both external and internal. And while this is no morality tale, it doesn’t pretend to take place outside the moral universe. It’s smart about evil, especially about the way it tends to radiate. Beautifully, starkly photographed by Ari Wegner.

Matthew Lickona: Why this story for a first feature?

William Oldroyd: The central character, Katherine. We’ve seen this setup before: young women trapped in lovely marriages who have affairs and then are sort of silenced or exiled. We had a chance to redress that. What Katherine did was so surprising; it felt like an opportunity to do something different with the British costume-drama genre. I love British period dramas; I grew up on them. But I loved the surprise here.

ML: She gives the audience a workout, yanking their sympathies back and forth the way she does.

WO: [Screenwriter] Alice Birch emphasized the dire position Katherine found herself in — a young woman who was the property of her husband and not allowed to go outside — as justification for her actions. But at the same time, she does do things that are problematic and difficult and contrary and complicated. It’s the same as when we watch [House of Cards’] Frank Underwood, or [There Will Be Blood’s] Daniel Plainview, or Richard III. Morally, it’s very questionable what they are doing, but we are compelled to watch them, and in some respects, we are compelled to root for them to succeed in whatever their goal is, even though they kill people and act despicably. We were thinking, Just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she can’t be like those men.

ML: A lot of the burden of keeping the audience on the hook lies with the actor in those cases. And Florence Pugh, who plays Katherine, doesn’t get much chance to explain herself verbally.

WO: We asked to have rehearsal time going in because we wanted to be clear going into the shoot what each thought was for Katherine. We knew everything was going to be read through the face. But after those rehearsal days, Florence knew exactly what she was doing, and we could be playful. She could just go for it. Also, shooting in sequence was very important. We shot the film from beginning to end, which meant that it was easier for Florence to chart her progression, or demise — however you want to see it. She’s a good actor, but when you see her in that final scene, she’s just been through a four-week shoot. There was a cumulative effect.

ML: Talk about the use of nature.

WO: We wanted to create contrasts. We knew she was going to spend most of her time indoors. That was her sentence, if you like — to be a house prisoner — and we were going to create this very sort of airless space. So when she does go outside, we needed a strong contrast to that: the wuthering wind and wild moorland of Northeast England. We felt she was a creature who belonged there. And it also helped with the sense of isolation.

Ari Wegner, our director of photography, went up there and started putting pictures of bruised and battered naked bodies together with pictures of trees and branches and the heath and the moorlands. It felt like they were two landscapes: the physical and the geographical. You see the naked bodies [of the lovers] on the bed, and then that’s juxtaposed with the rotting corpse of a horse, which is meant to represent the difficulties of their relationship and what’s to come.

Alice actually wrote in quite a lot of animal references. Katherine bites and scratched and licks like an animal. Anna the servant gets trussed up like a pig. You’ve got the lover Sebastian’s connection with the dogs. And her father-in-law Boris has this cat as sort of a familiar, who starts to sort of represent him after death.

ML: At some moments, I was thinking, This is strongly moral; at others, This is strongly immoral; at others, This is just amoral. Do you think there’s a morality at work, or does Katherine just respond to stimuli and act to preserve herself? I ask because at one point she starts to bond with the little boy, even though he stands in the way of her dreams.

WO: We really wanted to build that in, the idea that there was an alternative. I think she gets caught up and becomes desperate. There’s the idea of, “If we stop now, then whatever we’ve already done is going to be for nothing.”

ML: Finally, I couldn’t help but notice the hymn at Katherine’s wedding that opens the film.

WO: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” I chose it because it’s about pledging allegiance to a lord. She’s entering into this family and agreeing that this man is going to be her lord and master.

ML: And the last lines that get sung are “Hast thou not seen/ How thy desires have been/ Granted in what he ordaineth?”

WO: Exactly the opposite of what’s going to happen to her.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

The Red, White, and Blue can never tell a lie: San Diego was the place to be for the Fourth of July!

America’s Finest County
Lady Macbeth: Comedies end with a marriage. This film begins with one. Draw your own conclusions.
Lady Macbeth: Comedies end with a marriage. This film begins with one. Draw your own conclusions.

William Oldroyd’s elegantly executed debut feature Lady Macbeth may prove to be the sort of quiet breakout for star Florence Pugh that Martha Marcy May Marlene was for Elizabeth Olsen (as opposed to the more explosive entrance that Jennifer Lawrence made in Winter’s Bone).

Movie

Lady Macbeth ***

thumbnail

Director William Oldroyd’s elegantly executed debut feature <em>Lady Macbeth</em> may prove to be the sort of quiet breakout for star Florence Pugh that <em>Martha Marcy May Marlene</em> was for Elizabeth Olsen (as opposed to the more explosive entrance that Jennifer Lawrence made in <em>Winter’s Bone</em>. Pugh’s Katherine, like Olsen’s Martha, must entrance the audience instead of simply convincing it or winning it over, and she succeeds, overcoming the need for backstory, sympathy, or even straight-arrow consistency of character. Her version of the lethal Lady is both more passive and more active than her Shakespearean namesake (the story here is an adaptation of the Russian novella <em>Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District</em>): she is more driven to than driving toward her murderous acts, but she also doesn’t waste time trying to convince someone else (e.g., her lover) to do the deed. She is presented with a problem: a wretched husband who will not assist her in her matrimonial duty to produce an heir for her even more wretched father-in-law. She is also presented with an opportunity: an ardent young servant who knows a good thing when he sees it. And so she takes the necessary steps. It’s not a complicated story, but there are complications, both external and internal. And while this is no morality tale, it doesn’t pretend to take place outside the moral universe. It’s smart about evil, especially about the way it tends to radiate. Beautifully, starkly photographed by Ari Wegner.

Find showtimes

Pugh’s Katherine, like Olsen’s Martha, must entrance the audience instead of convincing it or winning it over, and she succeeds, overcoming the need for backstory, sympathy, or even straight-arrow consistency of character. Her version of the lethal Lady is both more passive and more active than her Shakespearean namesake (the story here is an adaptation of the Russian novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District): she is more driven to than driving toward her murderous acts, but she also doesn’t waste time trying to convince someone else (e.g., her lover) to do the deed.

She is presented with a problem: a wretched husband who will not assist her in her matrimonial duty to produce an heir for her even more wretched father-in-law. She is also presented with an opportunity: an ardent young servant who knows a good thing when he sees it. And so she takes the necessary steps. It’s not a complicated story, but there are complications, both external and internal. And while this is no morality tale, it doesn’t pretend to take place outside the moral universe. It’s smart about evil, especially about the way it tends to radiate. Beautifully, starkly photographed by Ari Wegner.

Matthew Lickona: Why this story for a first feature?

William Oldroyd: The central character, Katherine. We’ve seen this setup before: young women trapped in lovely marriages who have affairs and then are sort of silenced or exiled. We had a chance to redress that. What Katherine did was so surprising; it felt like an opportunity to do something different with the British costume-drama genre. I love British period dramas; I grew up on them. But I loved the surprise here.

ML: She gives the audience a workout, yanking their sympathies back and forth the way she does.

WO: [Screenwriter] Alice Birch emphasized the dire position Katherine found herself in — a young woman who was the property of her husband and not allowed to go outside — as justification for her actions. But at the same time, she does do things that are problematic and difficult and contrary and complicated. It’s the same as when we watch [House of Cards’] Frank Underwood, or [There Will Be Blood’s] Daniel Plainview, or Richard III. Morally, it’s very questionable what they are doing, but we are compelled to watch them, and in some respects, we are compelled to root for them to succeed in whatever their goal is, even though they kill people and act despicably. We were thinking, Just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she can’t be like those men.

ML: A lot of the burden of keeping the audience on the hook lies with the actor in those cases. And Florence Pugh, who plays Katherine, doesn’t get much chance to explain herself verbally.

WO: We asked to have rehearsal time going in because we wanted to be clear going into the shoot what each thought was for Katherine. We knew everything was going to be read through the face. But after those rehearsal days, Florence knew exactly what she was doing, and we could be playful. She could just go for it. Also, shooting in sequence was very important. We shot the film from beginning to end, which meant that it was easier for Florence to chart her progression, or demise — however you want to see it. She’s a good actor, but when you see her in that final scene, she’s just been through a four-week shoot. There was a cumulative effect.

ML: Talk about the use of nature.

WO: We wanted to create contrasts. We knew she was going to spend most of her time indoors. That was her sentence, if you like — to be a house prisoner — and we were going to create this very sort of airless space. So when she does go outside, we needed a strong contrast to that: the wuthering wind and wild moorland of Northeast England. We felt she was a creature who belonged there. And it also helped with the sense of isolation.

Ari Wegner, our director of photography, went up there and started putting pictures of bruised and battered naked bodies together with pictures of trees and branches and the heath and the moorlands. It felt like they were two landscapes: the physical and the geographical. You see the naked bodies [of the lovers] on the bed, and then that’s juxtaposed with the rotting corpse of a horse, which is meant to represent the difficulties of their relationship and what’s to come.

Alice actually wrote in quite a lot of animal references. Katherine bites and scratched and licks like an animal. Anna the servant gets trussed up like a pig. You’ve got the lover Sebastian’s connection with the dogs. And her father-in-law Boris has this cat as sort of a familiar, who starts to sort of represent him after death.

ML: At some moments, I was thinking, This is strongly moral; at others, This is strongly immoral; at others, This is just amoral. Do you think there’s a morality at work, or does Katherine just respond to stimuli and act to preserve herself? I ask because at one point she starts to bond with the little boy, even though he stands in the way of her dreams.

WO: We really wanted to build that in, the idea that there was an alternative. I think she gets caught up and becomes desperate. There’s the idea of, “If we stop now, then whatever we’ve already done is going to be for nothing.”

ML: Finally, I couldn’t help but notice the hymn at Katherine’s wedding that opens the film.

WO: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” I chose it because it’s about pledging allegiance to a lord. She’s entering into this family and agreeing that this man is going to be her lord and master.

ML: And the last lines that get sung are “Hast thou not seen/ How thy desires have been/ Granted in what he ordaineth?”

WO: Exactly the opposite of what’s going to happen to her.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

When it's too hot for soup at Pho Ca Dao

Summery dishes fit for outdoor dining on a summer day in Mission Valley
Next Article

Royal Albert Home Virtual Country Concert, Comic-Con at Home

Events July 18-July 22, 2020
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer News — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close